Striking Workers Petition US Embassy for Help

More than 100 workers from the Manhattan Textile and Garment Corp. factory in Kompong Cham province rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday asking the country’s ambassador to pressure their management into reinstating three sacked union leaders.

The workers have been striking since December 22 after the American-owned factory defied an Arbitration Council ruling that would have seen the three Cambodian Alliance of Trade Union (CATU) leaders return to their jobs, but their protests have so far fallen on deaf ears. 

In the absence of police or a security presence, protesters gathered peacefully outside the embassy at about 9 a.m. holding signs calling on U.S. chemical giant DuPont, which the factory supplies, and U.S. government representatives in Cambodia to force their employers to abide by the Arbitration Council’s nonbinding decision.

Within half an hour, an embassy official accepted their petition addressed to Ambassador William Todd, and promised that the embassy would “do it’s best to solve the dispute,” according to CATU president Yang Sophorn.

“We submitted our petition to the U.S. Embassy because we want the embassy to see that the American owner does not respect our country’s laws, to help bring an end to this dispute,” she said, adding that she hoped the U.S. Embassy would inform U.S. buyers that the factory is breaching the Cambodian Labor Law.

Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun, who also led the workers in a January 20 protest to petition provincial authorities in Kompong Cham, said they had turned to the U.S. Embassy as the government had so far failed to intervene.

“If the owner of the factory does not follow the Arbitration Council, we hope they will listen if the U.S Embassy intervenes to solve the dispute,” he said, adding that he believed the embassy would invite the factory owner for discussions.

Contacted Friday, U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman declined to comment.

On January 15, the Community Legal Education Center issued an open letter criticizing DuPont, which it said boasts of a commitment to the highest ethical standards but whose suppliers in Cambodia consistently violate the labor law by discriminating against union leaders.

DuPont representatives could not be reached Friday, while an administrator at the factory declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Simon Henderson)

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