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Garment Brands Say They Support the Minimum Wage

Cambodian garment workers shout slogans behind barbed wire set up by police near the Council of Ministers building during a rally in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Cambodian garment workers shout slogans behind barbed wire set up by police near the Council of Ministers building during a rally in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Major brands say they will support a minimum wage of $128, which came into effect at the start of the year, and will continue to look to Cambodia as a major source of clothes and shoes.

US retailers said they had been watching and advocating for negotiations that set a decent living wage.

Gap Inc. said it has been an active supporter of regular dialogue in Cambodia to address workers’ wage conditions and to ensure that garment workers are able to live healthy and productive lives.

“We are committed to doing business in Cambodia,” Laura Wilkinson, a Gap spokeswoman, said in an email. “We care about the women and men who make our clothes, and remain committed to helping to improve conditions for garment workers in the countries where we do business.”

The new minimum wage was a compromise set by the government, one that workers say will do little to improve their struggle to maintain a standard of living amid rising prices of goods and services. But factories had said they feared losing buyers if wages were increased too greatly.

The US is a major buyer of Cambodian garments, shoes and textiles, in a sector that employs up to 600,000 people and is a major economic driver.

US retailer Wal-Mart said it had joined with other brands and trade unions for transparent wage processes. “We respect the wage rate established by the Cambodian government and remain hopeful that all parties will continue a constructive dialogue that supports the Cambodian garment workers,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said in an email.

Outdoor apparel company Columbia, which has added footwear orders from Cambodian factories, said it had already negotiated prices with the new wage in mind.

These and other positive responses come after an appeal from the International Labor Organization earlier this month, calling on global brands to help support the higher wages.

“It is important that all sides work together to ensure Cambodia’s garment industry remains economically viable,” said Maurizio Bussi, the ILO’s country director for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. “We call on the global brands to play their part.”

“We have been working actively for many years to help strengthen the textile workers’ situation, and we welcome the increase in wages,” said Lena Enocson Almroth, a spokeswoman for H&M. “The continued presence of long-term, responsible buyers is vital to the future development of these countries, and we hope to be able to contribute to increased stability in these markets.”

“We will accommodate the recent increase within our normal sourcing activities to support suppliers fulfill the new wage requirements,” Adidas spokeswoman Silvia Raccagni said in an email.

When higher minimum wages are set, Adida requires its suppliers to meet those wages and any legally mandated allowances and benefits, she said

In September last year major brands sent a joint letter to the Cambodian government and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia to support wage negotiations and a living wage for workers.

H&M also urged the government and GMAC to establish a monitoring process that ensures the wage implementation and policing suppliers that fail to meet the new minimum wage.

“This will ensure an equal level playing field and create a competitive advantage for the fatories that comply with the new minimum wage,” Almroth said.

Many companies say they want continued efforts at fair wages and negotiations for workers.

“While we welcome the establishment of a new minimum wage in 2015, Levi Strauss & Co. will continue to encourage the government of Cambodia to establish an inclusive and transparent process for regular minimum wage setting,” Amber Rensen, spokeswoman of the company, said.