While multinational corporations like Nike Inc, and Gap Inc, are trying to show the world they don’t tolerate child labor, 25-year-old Srey Ny and other workers at the June Textiles factory in Phnom Penh are worried about their livelihoods.
“We don’t want to lose our jobs,” Srey Ny said Thursday. “It means they are making our family die. Nike should reconsider.”
Srey Ny and more than 3,000 other June Textiles employees are concerned about layoffs at the factory following recent revelations that a BBC TV crew allegedly found five underage workers at June Textiles.
The child labor allegations to be featured in an upcoming BBC show, “Panorama,” prompted Nike and Gap to announce the suspension of contracts with June.
CK Chang, deputy general manager at June Textiles Co Ltd, said the cancellation of contracts with both Nike and Gap will mean a loss of almost 40 percent of the factory’s work.
Chang said it is unclear yet if there will be layoffs in the 3,800 staff as a result of the two large companies pulling the plug.
Showing reporters around the modern, well lit and ventilated factory located on Pochentong road, CK Chang did confirm that the company was on probation with Nike for excessive use of overtime but strongly denied the factory knowingly employed workers under 18 years old.
“We don’t want underage girls in our factory… or have a policy to employ underage girls,” he added.
Sy Meng, a 26-year-old June Textiles employee, said Nike has to understand that because Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, underage people often have to work, even if they have to lie about their age to get jobs.
“They come to work with no coercion from the factory,” Sy Meng said. “They come to get money for their poor family.”
There is little a company can do in Cambodia if their workers forge documents showing they are over 18 years old to get a job, CK Chang said. The minimum working age here is 15.
“It’s unfortunate it happened at our factory. But a lot of factories [in Cambodia] face the same problems,” said CK Chang. “Maybe the [BBC] didn’t understand our situation,.”
The textile worker at the center of the underage controversy, Sun Thyda, appeared at a press conference Wednesday stating she lied to the BBC crew about her age.
Sun Thyda, who presented documents to show she is 18, said she told the BBC crew she was under 15 years old because the journalists offered $10 to those who agreed to be interviewed.
Chuon Mom Thol, the organizer of Sun Thyda’s press conference and head of the Cambodian Union Federation, a union allied with the government, warned the BBC that he would sue if the program is broadcast later this month.
BBC spokeswoman Jennifer Press dismissed his claim that BBC acted unethically, calling it “absolute nonsense,” The Associated Press reported Thursday.
“We stand by our film and the evidence that we’ve got,” said Press adding that a small amount of money was given to all those interviewed to compensate for the time taken up by the television crew.
Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said Thursday that Nike’s cancellation of its contract is consistent with the company’s policy on violations of its labor standard.
Chea Vichea, who helped the BBC locate the alleged child workers, said it would be unfair if June Textiles reduces it workforce because of the loss of the contract.
“[The company] issued this warning just to blame the union and the BBC for causing trouble with this information,” said Chea Vichea.
However, a 20-year-old June factory worker who requested anonymity said Thursday she was less enthusiastic about the loss of the contracts.
While the majority of the worker at the factory are over 18 years, a “very, very small” number falsify their ages to appear over 18 years, she said.
“It’s not reasonable that the Nike company stops ordering clothes,” she said. “It will be a huge loss for the jobs we have now.”