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Major Brands Express Concern for Violence Against Striking Workers

The company logo is placed at the flagship store of H&M, Hennes & Mauritz, the world's second-biggest fashion retailer in Sweden's capital Stockholm, file photo.
Major labels that source clothing and shoes from Cambodia have written an open letter to the government, manufacturers and union leaders of the country, expressing major concern for the recent shootings of demonstrating workers.

Adidas, Gap, H&M, Levis and Puma were among those to sign the Jan. 7 letter. Together, the seven companies behind the letter said they account for 70 percent of garment orders from Cambodia.

“We strongly oppose all forms of violence,” the companies wrote in response to last week’s shooting, which killed five people and injured another 40. “It is with great concern that we have observed both the widespread civil unrest and the government’s use of deadly force.”

Workers have been on strike to demand a minimum monthly salary of $160, as the cost of living in Cambodia continues to rise. Continued protests culminated in the Jan. 3 shooting, when police fired on demonstrators.

“Our primary concerns are for the security and safety of the workers employed by our suppliers and the long-term stability of the Cambodian garment industry,” the retailers said in their letter. “Given the reported deaths and injuries of 3 January 2014, we call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from the use of force or violence.”

Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said the letter was a “credible” form of pressure on the government and unions to negotiate for a pay raise for workers. But he also suggested that retailers sell their brands for higher prices, so that factories can afford to pay more to workers.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said Wednesday factories would consider complying with a wage increase if the government officially institutes one.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the shooting was the result of “anarchic” protesters incited by the opposition.

Meanwhile, human rights workers are calling for the release of 23 people detained in last week’s crackdown. Am Sam Arth, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said lawyers from the group are preparing a request to the court for the release of the detainees on bail.