While Cambodia continues to hold garment factory workers arrested in this month’s violent crackdowns, some Cambodian-Americans say they will boycott goods purchased from factories in the country.
Major international labels source goods from Cambodia. At least seven such companies have issued an open letter condemning this month’s attacks on workers and urging a fair minimum wage. But no company has said it will stop sourcing from Cambodia if those conditions aren’t met.
Workers are striking for a minimum wage of $160 per month to keep up with the rising cost of living in Cambodia. Factories say they cannot pay that amount and will consider moving to other countries if the strike continues.
“I’ve stopped buying from Gap, H&M, Adidas, Puma, and others that import from Cambodia, and I’ll tell my American friends as well,” said Many Sokkh, an engineer from Seattle, Wash. “Anyone who buys those clothes seems to take the pure blood of the workers, who are only demanding higher wages for a better standard of living.”
The government has been unable to control inflation, but it has used violent force against workers who are asking for a raise from $80 a month, he said.
Five people were killed and 40 injured when police fired on striking workers earlier this month, and 23 people remain in detention after a crackdown on demonstrations. Garment exports are a major economic driver for Cambodia, employing up to 400,000 people and bringing in $5 billion in revenue.
Saran Sam, a taxi driver who lives in Virginia, told VOA Khmer that such action meant he won’t buy goods from Cambodian factories.
“When I buy these products, I recall the suffering, and I feel remorse that workers lost their lives,” he said. “When I see those things, I don’t feel like I can use [the products] anymore.”
Suon In, who lives in Oakland, Calif., said a boycott was a good way to express opposition to worker abuses and put pressure on companies and the Cambodian government to solve the problem.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said negotiations are under way between relevant government agencies, factories and unions. He said strikes were not a “real solution,” but represent “political ambition” among demonstrators.
But those who would boycott Cambodian-sourced products say they believe workers’ demands are fair.
“Cambodian workers are getting very little salary,” said Sam Meas, an economic analyst with a private company in Lowell, Mass. “In my observation, 29 cents per hour; while food, utility bills, and gasoline are expensive in Cambodia. So the workers need a salary on which they can survive.”
He also said the violence against workers by “Prime Minister Hun Sen’s military and police” is not acceptable. “The military and police are abusing human rights,” he said.