New Report Says Garment Sector Fails to Meet UN Standards

Cambodian garment manufacturers and the association that governs them are failing to meet the standards set by the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as evidenced by lethal violence against workers during garment strikes in January, when five people were shot dead and scores wounded by state forces, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has said.

The Cambodian garment sector is “mired in ongoing human rights violations” and the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has “refused to condemn the lethal use of force against striking workers,” a briefing paper released by FIDH late Wednesday said.

“Cambodian manufacturers and GMAC have clearly failed to respect workers’ rights,” in light of the guiding U.N. principles, the statement said.

“Brands have failed to prevent and mitigate adverse human rights impacts by their business partners, and have failed to exercise leverage with Cambodian suppliers and business associations to prevent such abuses,” it continued.

In addition, the report notes that more than 100 GMAC-affiliated factories sued six of the trade unions involved in organizing December’s strikes. However, FIDH says that the “victims of state repression and companies’ retaliation following garment workers’ legitimate exercise of their right to strike” are unlikely to receive proper or fair redress though the courts.

GMAC chairman Van Sou Ieng said the allegations against the association were unfounded.

“I object to such a comment. I want them to prove their statement…they should not use the name of human rights to accuse people without evidence,” Mr. Sou Ieng said.

“In the legal rule of law and democratic society, they might get sued for slander with such a statement,” he said.

The report also said the garment sector in general “is mired in ongoing human rights violations, including child labor and inadequate enforcement of workers’ health and safety regulations.”

Responding to the last point on health and safety, Mr. Sou Ieng said the remarks were “simply not true” and that evidence to prove otherwise comes in the form of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia program, which “has concluded every year for the past 12 years that 85 percent of all the factories inspected are in compliance with the labor law and the international core labor standards.”

He challenged the authors of the FIDH to identity another country with such a high rate of compliance.

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