Cambodia Update

Workers in a Cambodian garment factory

NCP Executive Director Anna Burger is convening ‘Threats to Democracy’, an initiative to address the situation in Cambodia in terms of rule of law and governance deficits.  In partnership with key Multistakeholder Initiatives - Fair Labor Association (FLA), Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), AMFORI, Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Social Accountability International (SAI), and American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), the goal is to use brands’ power as a leverage point to bring about change in Cambodia. The group of Multistakeholder Initiatives (MSIs) represent major retailers from the United States and Europe as well as international brands and more than 200 buyers who source garments, footwear, and travel goods from Cambodia. Thus, the potential to influence higher labour standards through global supply chain actions is high. At the moment, freedom of association in Cambodia is seriously restricted and channels for workers’ voice are challenged.

The group of MSIs sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Cambodia in March 2018 to urge acceleration of labor law reform. MSIs expressed their concerns in terms of the current political landscape in the country to protect workers’ rights and human rights in general. Political freedoms, rule of law and enforcement of international civil and labor rights are fundamental not only for the people residing in Cambodia, but also for international trade and responsible business conduct.

Cambodia’s economy relies heavily on exports of these goods: the industry moved from USD 27 million in 1995 to USD 6.3 billion employing over 650,000 workers. In addition, member-buyers of these MSIs from the United States, Europe and across the world have a strong interest in Cambodian growing economy. AAFA spearheaded the effort to provide Cambodian travel goods with duty-free access under the US Generalized System of Preferences Program (GSP). The International Labor Organization (ILO)’s Better Factories Program has become an important project for textile and garment exporting factories of Cambodia to ensure that labor law and regulations are effectively implemented.

Despite these improvements, the group of MSIs urged the Prime Minister to implement the commitments announced by the government on October 16th 2017 which included –among others- the revocation of the draft Law on Labor Dispute adjudication Procedures, the revision of Article 16 of the draft Law on Minimum Wage, allow minority trade unions to represent members in collective labor disputes by removing article 54 of the New Trade Union Law, and enhance transparency mechanisms to guarantee the rights and freedoms of professional organizations in Cambodia. In addition, MSIs demanded further collaboration with international organizations and other partners such us ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia, the Global Deal Initiative carried out by Sweden, and the GIZ Project for improvement and strengthening industrial relations in factories and enterprises.

NCP Executive Director Anna Burger conducted a fact-finding mission in which these issues were discussed and the impact of the letter was assessed. However, many challenges remain, particularly in terms of human rights’ defenders and protection to union leaders.