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Workers in Cambodia Allege Harassment

Standoff with garment factory has seen 2,500 workers strike over sexual complaints.

SINGAPORE — Garment industry workers in Cambodia have filed sexual harassment complaints against a manager at a factory that produces for Gap Inc., the latest escalation in a standoff that has seen about 2,500 workers go on strike in recent weeks.

About 10 women submitted police complaints against Faruk Ahmad, deputy general manager at Ocean Garment Co., a Phnom Penh-based factory, said Mouen Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, a Cambodian rights group. Tola said that police had passed on the complaints to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Sources said that Ahmad allegedly passed female employees at the factory his telephone number and offered them money in return for sexual favors. The Phnom Penh Post on Tuesday quoted a worker’s representative saying that Ahmad denied workers who refused to sleep with him the opportunity to work overtime.

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Cambodia’s garment industry employs around 350,000 workers, around 90 percent of whom are women.

The Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), an independent union that represents the alleged victims, has called for Ocean Garment Co. to terminate Ahmad’s contract. About 2,500 workers went on strike on Aug. 11, after the company declined several times to sack him. Striking workers made several attempts this week to march to government quarters in protest, but were stopped by armed police, local media reported.

Mamunar Rashid, a director at Ocean Garment Co., said that CUMW had not provided any evidence against Ahmad, who is currently suspended. “We have attended [numerous meetings] and asked them for evidence,” he said. “But they said we have to terminate Faruk for misbehaving first.”
 
Dave Welsh, Cambodia director for the American Centre for International Labor Solidarity, said that the strike was notable because CUMW had chosen to highlight the sexual harassment claims over its bid for collective bargaining rights.

Edie Kissko, a spokeswoman for Gap Inc., confirmed that Ocean Garment was a supplier.  ”We are aware of the allegations and have demanded an immediate investigation,” she said. “Sexual harassment is absolutely unacceptable…we are closely monitoring the outcome of those discussions, and have requested swift and fair resolution.”