Seven global clothing brands, including H&M, Gap and Levi Strauss & Co., roundly condemned the government’s use of security forces on protesting workers in an open letter Tuesday and urged all sides to return to the negotiating table to discuss a minimum wage raise.
In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia — which represents the country’s exporting factories — and six major trade unions, the letter expressed “deep felt concern over the tragic events that took place on Jan. 3.”
On Friday, government security forces opened fire on thousands of rioting workers in a Phnom Penh industrial park, leaving at least four dead and more than 30 people injured. This lethal show of force followed more than a week of nationwide demonstrations by workers protesting for a minimum wage increase.
“It is with great concern that we have observed both the widespread civil unrest and the government’s use of deadly force,” the letter said. “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 letter was signed by Helena Helmersson, head of sustainability of Swedish retail giant H&M; Kindley Walsh-Lawlor, vice president of Gap Inc.’s social and environmental responsibility department; Felix Poza, CSR global director for Inditex, the Spanish multinational clothing company that owns Zara, and Michael Kobori, vice president for Levi Strauss & Co.’s sustainability department.
Executives from three other sportswear companies also threw their weight behind the call for action: William Anderson, vice president of social and environmental affairs in Asia-Pacific for Adidas Group; Reiner Hengstmann, global director for Puma’s SAFE supply chain, and Abel Navarrete, director of corporate responsibility and product safety for Columbia Sportswear Co.
All seven brands urged the government, the manufacturers and the trade unions to “immediately join negotiations, in good faith, to swiftly and peacefully resolve this dispute,” and to endorse a mechanism that would lead to regular wage discussions in the future.
The government had initially offered $95 a month on Dec. 24, a $15 increase from the current wage, but workers rallied behind union leaders calling for an increase to $160 a month. The government has since made a concession and raised the amount to $100 a month, which workers still believe is not enough.
After Friday’s events, security forces heavily patrolled the scene of the protests, and City Hall announced that public demonstrations or gatherings would no longer be tolerated — a move that drew condemnation from international and local rights groups.
Dave Welsh, country head of the Solidarity Center — a labor rights organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO — said the open letter should have addressed the threats the government has imposed on trade unions, as well as criticized GMAC’s callous responses to the deaths.
Welsh added that there are currently more than 20 workers who have been imprisoned during these protests, and that their lawyers — afforded to them by the Solidarity Center and two other local rights groups — have no clue about their locations or conditions.
“There has to be a robust response to what is a really chilling effect on trade union rights in Cambodia,” Welsh said. “All of this is something that is not in the spirit of promoting trade union rights or the freedom of association. The louder the brands can speak up about this, the better.”
Van Sou Ieng, chairman of GMAC, said the brands are “listening to only one story,” and challenged them to show their commitment by continuing to place orders in Cambodia despite the industrial action and to increase their buying price by 15 percent to address the wage raise instated earlier in May, from $65 to $80.
“I ask them to place orders in Cambodia now as much as last year, even more in fact — that is my first challenge,” Sou Ieng said. “The other challenge is to increase the buying price because we have already increased the wage this year.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast