By Brian Calvert
the cambodia daily
The multinational shoe and apparel company Nike Inc has begun negotiations to resume placing orders with Cambodian factories, garment officials said.
Nike pulled its orders from Cambodia more than 18 months ago after a British Broadcasting Corp television documentary alleged that one of Nike’s Cambodian suppliers was employing underage girls.
“Nike is coming back [and] starting to place orders” with at least two factories, said Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia. Van Sou Ieng pointed to a new, transparent system under which International Labor Organization inspection teams visit some factories and publish their findings.
That kind of labor standard “infrastructure” will hopefully make Cambodia a promising country for companies that want to guarantee their consumers that their products are made in good factories, said Jason Judd, field representative for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity.
High-profile companies like Nike are “looking for cover,” he said. “The monitoring and the trade agreement provide some measure of cover.”
Cambodia has signed a trade agreement with the US that links access to the US garment market to labor conditions. And while some of Cambodia’s neighbors have criticized the government for signing it, the return of Nike “shows that the agreement is not a folly,” Judd said. He suggested it will be the high labor standards that are adhered to in Cambodia “by a handful of factories” that will give the country a niche market in the garment industry. But he cautioned that “a lot of companies have a long way to go.”
It was unclear Wednesday whether Nike would be returning to June Textiles Co, Ltd, the factory Nike pulled out of in October 2000 after it was featured in the BBC broadcast.
“There has been no confirmation that they are coming back to June,” said June Textiles general manager William Ong, adding that the company was “hopeful” a deal could be reached with Nike.
The BBC documentary focused on June’s alleged use of underage workers. One woman who told the BBC she was underage recanted, claiming she had been paid to make the claim. Nike, though, took no chances and canceled its orders, despite protests from workers that they were losing their jobs and assurances from Cambodian officials that the labor market was full of adults looking for factory jobs.