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Human Rights Watch Finds Widespread Anti-Union Practices

Cambodian garment workers shout slogans behind barbed wire set up by police near the Council of Ministers building during a rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. The workers are demanding a raise in their monthly salary from US $160 to $80. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
In a new report highlighting abuse in Cambodia’s garment industry, Human Rights Watch has called on the Cambodian government to cease “intimidation and threats” against workers.

The group interviewed nearly 200 factory workers from 55 different factories, and found that anti-union discrimination and poor workers conditions were frequent. Meanwhile, armed forces “used excessive and disproportionate force to break up demonstrations in Phnom Penh seeking higher minimum wages for garment workers,” the group said.

Cambodia’s garment industry is a main economic engine for the country, employing up to 400,000 people in textile, clothing and shoe factories.

The study comes following the shooting deaths of at least four workers by police in demonstration crackdowns last month. The violent clashes between protesters and police brought fresh scrutiny from Western companies that source from Cambodia, though no arrests have been made in the wake of the shootings.

“The Cambodian government should ensure that garment factories stop deploying union-busting strategies and respect workers’ rights,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Global apparel brands need to make sure their suppliers allow workers to form independent unions without interference, and that union representatives can be in factories without threats and retaliation.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the government has a policy to “ensure public order and encourage peaceful dialogue.” But he said violent protesters had destroyed public and private property, leading to January’s crackdown.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, said more restrictions had been put on workers and labor leaders lately, including “arrests and killings.”