The Cambodian Confederation of Unions collected 1,300 thumbprints from workers on a petition asking Prime Minister Hun Sen to work with the European Union to prevent a suspension of the critical “Everything But Arms” trade privileges.
The alliance of worker unions issued a letter on Friday to express their concern over the government’s reaction to the EU’s preliminary investigation in the potential suspension of the trade privileges.
“If we lose our job because of the suspension of EBA tariff scheme from the European Union, we will consider the leaders of the Royal Government of Cambodia responsible and the ones who have brought hardship to us and our families,” the letter reads.
The EU initiated an investigation into Cambodia’s human rights records last February, looking specifically at labor rights violations in the country. The initial findings of the investigation showed that the EU found that significant challenges remained in the labor sector, and that in some cases the rights violation had worsened since the start of the investigation.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said the withdrawal of the EBA privileges would put Cambodia in a serious crisis.
“If Cambodian citizens lose their jobs, they lose their income, the turmoil will happen,” he said, at a press conference Friday morning. “The turmoil means there will be social insecurity.”
Rong Chhun said it was not hard for the government to comply with the EU’s requirements and restoration of democracy would help improve the situation and to maintain the preferential access.
Cambodian People’s Party Senator Sok Eysan said that the EBA withdrawal would not affect the country’s economy and that the EU’s demands were political in nature.
"We do not want to lose, but the European Commission has their political tendencies,” Sok Eysan said.“They [EU] want to pressure the government. Cambodian government cannot follow the EU by exchanging its independence for their EBA.”
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia has said that the withdrawal could affect the garment sector in Cambodia and brands have also expressed their concerns, which could lead to relocation.
The EU Delegation in Cambodia and a spokesperson for the EU Commission did not respond to requests for comment.