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U.S., E.U. Push for Greater Worker Protections in Cambodia’s Garment Industry


FILE: Cambodian garment workers sew clothes in a factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 4, 2007.

Cambodia’s garment sector employs some 700,000 people, mostly women, and created exports worth more than $6 billion last year, according to industry figures.

Envoys from the United States and Europe have called on Phnom Penh to broaden the space for workers rights in Cambodia following the recent conclusion of minimum wage talks in the vital sector.

Cambodia’s Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) recently concluded tripartite talks between unions, the government and employers, setting next year’s minimum wage at $165 per month -- a figure boosted by a customary $5 per month by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

U.S. Ambassador William Heidt and E.U. Ambassador George Edgar announced the move on Facebook after a meeting with Cambodia’s labor minister, Ith Sam Heng.

“The two Ambassadors touched on a range of worker rights issues important to both major brands and their two governments. They reinforced the importance of making clear progress on the recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) dealing with the rights of workers to choose their own unions, register unions under a fair and transparent process, and settle collective labor disputes in a transparent, time-bound manner,” they said in a statement.

Ambassador Heidt noted that, over the years, Cambodia’s cooperation with its international partners has significantly bolstered the confidence of major brands from the United States and the European Union to source from Cambodia. He noted that continued progress on worker rights issues would be important to maintaining the current level of market access to the United States as well as the confidence of American buyers, according to the statement.

Cambodia’s garment sector employs some 700,000 people, mostly women, and created exports worth more than $6 billion last year, according to industry figures.

A labor spokesman told pro-government news website Freshnews that despite recent political tensions between Phnom Penh and the West, Europe and the United States would continue to buy Cambodian garments.

Yang Sophoan, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, told VOA that the prevalence of unions in Cambodia - there are several thousand unions registered with the government - was misleading, as the majority were established by employers to placate workers.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, called on politicians to end disputes and restore full relations with Western countries to protect Cambodian industries.

The U.S. and E.U. together represent about two thirds of Cambodia’s garment exports, according to trade data.

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