A representative of the Zongtex Garment Manufacturing company in Phnom Penh on Tuesday denied employing workers as young as 15 to make U.S. government clothing, following an exposé by The New York Times on poor standards in factories producing U.S. government attire.
On Sunday, The Times reported that despite a “zero tolerance” policy for using factories that break local laws, the U.S. government sourced some of its clothes from such factories.
The newspaper reported that an audit conducted this year found that Zongtex, which makes clothes sold by the U.S. Army and Air Force, employed underage workers as young as 15 and that bathroom breaks were so limited that workers were forced to soil themselves at their work stations.
“Right now, I am checking this information. I don’t understand where they got this information or why this case would happen in this factory,” said Kiv Chanseyha, chief of accounting at the Zongtex plant in Phnom Penh.
“I think that this is not accurate information because this factory never chose minors to work here. We always respect the labor law,” she said.
“There are three or four workers that are one to two months from turning 18 years old, but they work there because they have sewing skills,” she said.
In interviews with The Times, several workers who said they were underage said they were also told to hide from factory inspectors. “Sometimes people soil themselves at their sewing machines,” one worker claimed in The Times story.
The clothing made at Zongtex include women’s fleece jackets and men’s mesh knit shorts, which are sold on U.S. military bases, according to The Times.
Regionally, the U.S. government also sourced clothing from factories in Thailand, and Vietnam.
There is no law that prohibits the U.S. government from buying clothes produced abroad in a factory where local laws may be broken.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturer’s Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said GMAC would look into the allegations, but was skeptical about their findings.
“To the underage workers, I will have to check up on this. Zongtex is monitored by the International Labor Organization [ILO]. Surely, something like this would have been found by the ILO…. I’m sure The New York Times did not audit the factory,” he said.
According to GMAC, the factory’s owner is from Taiwan and it employs 225 workers.