Several major US corporate purchasers of Cambodia’s garment products have come out against proposed changes to articles 67 and 73 of the Labor Law, according to a copy of a letter sent to senior government officials.
The firms—Coldwater Creek, Gap Inc, Hennes and Mauritz, Jones Apparel Group, Levi Strauss and Co, Phillips-Van Heusen and Wal-Mart—said that the proposed amendments to the law would limit protection of Cambodian workers.
“We respectfully write to you to express our concern over the draft amendment of Articles 67 and 73 of the Cambodian Labor Law. As companies sourcing in Cambodia, we are committed to ensuring the ongoing protection of workers in the facilities producing our merchandise, and are concerned that the amendments as written may have the effect of limiting such protections,” the firms wrote in a joint letter.
“The unrestricted use of short-term contracts could have the consequences of jeopardizing protections granted to workers under unlimited term contracts, such as the ability to join unions, voice concerns to employers, and be ensured freedom from discrimination,” the firms wrote in the March 3 letter sent to Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, Labor Minister Vong Sauth and Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng.
The firms also said that the government’s support “of labor standards in general is a key criterion for our companies’ sourcing decisions.”
The proposed amendments would change articles 67 and 73 of the Labor Law, which deal with the duration of temporary contracts and the rules for providing notice on contract termination.
Critics, including labor unions, say the changes would allow the “endless renewal” of temporary work contracts, thereby denying workers the benefits and job security that come with permanent employment.
Ny You, communications officer with the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program, said labor standards are a consideration for buyers when deciding which countries to make deals with.
“If a country has a strategy of violating the rights of workers and the working conditions are not friendly, companies will consider that in their decisions,” he said.
A meeting on Thursday between Ministry of Labor officials, union representatives, and employers resulted in a delay of the proposed amendments to the Labor Law, as officials agreed they need further review.
“The government said there wasn’t a consensus on this and the amendments will be reviewed further by a tripartite task force of the government, unions and employers,” ILO technical adviser John Ritchotte said by telephone Tuesday.
The delay in the amendments was not due to foreign pressure, Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia spokesman Kaing Monika said, but to allow feedback from all parties involved.
“These amendments will not affect workers’ rights, they will make the law more clear for a better investment climate,” Kaing Monika said, adding the current law is interpreted different ways in many labor disputes.
He added, while quoting US Commerce Department figures, that US company sourcing decisions in 2008 alone meant $2.23 billion in export revenue for Cambodia.
The letter from the US firms also suggested a compromise in the amendments “to increase the total number of years allowed for back- to-back short-term contracts, without making that period indefinite or providing protection against retaliation for workers that are on short-term contracts.”
Ministry of Labor Secretary of State Oum Mean said by telephone Tuesday that the proposed amendments will be discussed in many meetings in the future, and that the ministry will allow enough time for all parties to supply input.
“I cannot say when the next meeting will be as it has not been scheduled yet,” he said. “But, the amendments will not be [thrown out] because they are by recommendation of the government.”