Cambodian Garment Workers Forced to Work Under Terrible Conditions

After several reports of labour rights violations in Cambodia’s garment industry, Human Rights Watch is calling on the government to improve labour laws via facilitating transparency.

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In a letter to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Human Rights Watch asked the government to improve coordination between different ministries to ensure that all garment factories are registered and regularly monitored by labour inspectors. The recommendations are in light of a 140-page report entitled “Work Faster or Get Out,” which details hundreds of cases where labour laws were violated in Cambodian garment factories.

“We welcome more transparency around government measures to hold factories accountable,” said Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But the government should also publicly disclose the names of factories, the labor rights violations found, amount of fine imposed on each factory, and whether it was actually paid by the factory.”

Despite added pressure, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training apparently rejected accusations of labour violations outlined by Human Rights Watch.

However, according to their research, Human Rights Watch documented labour rights abuses in both export-orientated factories and subcontractor factories in Cambodia. Forced overtime, lack of rest breaks, denial of sick leave, use of underage child labour, and restriction of union development are some of the violations documented by researchers.

In addition, women faced pregnancy-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and denial of maternity benefits.

The report is based on interviews with 270 garment workers from 73 factories in Phnom Penh and nearby provinces. Union leaders, government representatives, labour rights advocates, and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia were also interviewed for this report.

“A worker in my team wanted to leave early. We have to do overtime work till 9 p.m. every day. She had her period and had severe cramps and so requested that she will do overtime work only till 6 p.m. They shouted at her and said they would reduce $7 from her wages and not renew her contract. So she didn’t leave and continued to work,” said a factory worker from Phnom Penh in an interview with Human Rights Watch. The interviewee went under the pseudonym Kong Chantha.

“If we have taken three days [sick] leave, then they deduct $20 from what we have earned. They say to us: “If you want to earn that money back, work more.” We only bring medical certificates because we feel they will scream at us less,” said Chhlau San.

Caption: women sewing in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Photo credit: Samer Muscati via Human Rights Watch.
The Human Rights Watch called on the government to enforce labour laws, but they also said it’s the responsibility of clothing and footwear brands to ensure labour laws are upheld.

“International clothing and footwear brands have a responsibility to promote respect for workers’ rights throughout their supply chains, including both direct suppliers and subcontractor factories. As documented in this report, many brands have not full lived up to these responsibilities due to poor supply chain transparency, the absence of whistleblower protections, and failure to help factories correct problems in situations where that is both possible and warranted,” read the report.

H&M, Marks and Spencer, Joe Fresh, and Gap are some of the international brands outsourced to Cambodia and Human Rights Watch documented multiple cases of labour violations in factories that produce their clothing.

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