The parent company of U.S. apparel giant Timberland has launched an investigation into claims that security guards at a special economic zone in Kandal province viciously attacked the workers that make the brand’s clothing and footwear, a company representative said Wednesday.
Eight workers from the Star Light Apparel Manufacturing factory inside the 7NG Special Economic Zone (SEZ) were injured when about 40 SEZ security guards and hired thugs attacked them with meat cleavers and steel pipes as they attempted to board trucks on their way to a protest in Phnom Penh on Monday, union representatives said.
Hundreds of workers at the Star Light Apparel factory have been protesting since early last month to demand the reinstatement of eight employees who lost their jobs over an earlier bout of labor strife. According to Seang Rithy, president of the Cambodian Labor Solidarity Union (CLSU), which has been leading the industrial action, the factory supplies major brands including Timberland, Giorgio Armani and The North Face.
In an email Wednesday, Vanessa McCutchen, public relations officer for the Greensboro, North Carolina-based VF Corporation, which owns Timberland, said she was “deeply concerned” about the attack on workers and that an investigation had been launched.
“Most important is that our thoughts are with the people injured during this terrible violence. We are aware of the reports of this violence and are deeply concerned,” Ms. McCutchen said.
“We have already begun an investigation of the matter and expect to have somebody at the work site during the coming days to begin a thorough and objective review of the incident,” she said, adding that VF had contacted factory management to alert them of the investigation.
“They are aware of our concerns and our intent to investigate the matter in a comprehensive way,” she said.
Representatives for Giorgio Armani and The North Face did not respond to requests for comment.
Phorn Neuk, a CLSU representative who claimed he was among those attacked on Monday, said about 600 protesters would return to their stations today following a mostly fruitful meeting between factory managers and workers at the Khsach Kandal District Hall.
The two parties agreed on 15 points, Mr. Neuk said, and left two—whether the eight workers will be reinstated and whether the others would be paid for the period of time they were protesting—for a follow-up meeting on Friday.