WASHINGTON — The Worker Rights Consortium, in a report released Thursday, charged a Cambodian apparel manufacturer with violating workers’ rights over nearly four years while allegedly making apparel for the U.S. Defense Department, several brands and retailers, and university licensees. The consortium called on companies and the government to pressure the firm to remedy the violations.
The labor rights watchdog group accused Zongtex Garment Mfg., a Taiwanese-owned company operating two factories in Cambodia that employ a combined 900 workers, with using underage workers, involuntary and excessive overtime, wage and benefit violations, health and safety violations and failure to allow union organizing.
The WRC began its initial investigation into working conditions at Zongtex in August 2010 and made recommendations to improve the conditions and uphold workers’ rights to organize. But the Zongtex management refused to follow recommendations by the WRC and International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia monitoring program or to comply with multiple legally binding edicts handed down by Cambodia’s Arbitration Council against both factories, according to the report.
In a subsequent investigation detailed in the new report, the WRC alleged Zongtex has committed additional labor law violations, including employing underage workers and failing to ensure that walkways are clear in the case of emergencies. The report also charges that one of the two factories, referred to as Zongtex II, which employs 300 workers, does not appear to be registered with the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia or with the ILO.
“Zongtex’s operation of such a factory raises serious concerns that the company is attempting to evade scrutiny of its labor practices at this facility,” the report said.
The WRC turned up the heat in particular on the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which allegedly placed several orders with Zongtex in recent years for men’s sports shorts, women’s fleece hoodies and other products. The AAFES did not respond to a request for comment.
“AAFES’ decision to place orders with a factory with such disregard for national law and international labor standards reflects the agency’s lack of a robust system for preventing or addressing workers’ rights violations in its supply chain,” the WRC charged, adding that Zongtex is “unlikely to remedy its violations of Cambodian laws and comply with international labor rights standards unless buyers compel Zongtex management to do so.”