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Workers’ Orgs Probe Cambodian Labor Conditions

Trade union representatives and workers' rights groups are holding a "People's Tribunal" in Phnom Penh this week.

Trade union representatives and workers’ rights groups are holding a “People’s Tribunal” in Phnom Penh this week to investigate wages and labor conditions in the Cambodian garment industry.

International Asia Floor Wage Alliance and the Asia Floor Wage Cambodia, two coalitions of garment workers’ trade unions and workers’ rights groups, have organized the tribunal, which will conclude with a press conference Feb. 8.

“Despite experiencing sustained growth in the sector Cambodia’s minimum wage allowance is [$66] a month and is currently the lowest of all its neighboring states. This wage amounts to around half that required to adequately meet the average worker’s basic needs.” Tola Moeun head of labor programs for the Community Legal Education Centre, said in a press release distributed by the Clean Clothes Campaign organization, a garment workers’ rights group.

The release said the tribunal follows a series of recent mass faintings at factories “induced by malnutrition, and strikes pulling more than 200,000 workers to the streets to protest poor conditions and inadequate pay.”

Jeroen Merk, secretariat for Clean Clothes Campaign International, said the organization wants to see some real commitment from “big brands” manufacturing in Cambodia to address the needs of their workers.

“A living wage should be at the root of company policies,” said Merk.

One “mass fainting” took place last summer at a Cambodian garment factory that was a supplier to Hennes & Mauritz and other brands at the time.

“We don’t know why,” a manager at M&V International Manufacturing Ltd. said at the time. The manager said he could not estimate how many people got sick, but press reports said the number was between 100 to 300 people.

“We never forced people [to work] overtime,” the manager said in August.

H&M said this week it regularly participates in forums that address wages in the supply chain and maintains a close dialogue with organizations in Cambodia including Better Factories Cambodia, NGOs and other brands.

“Workers should earn a fair wage and we strive for decent supply chain working conditions. To tackle this challenge we last year joined the Fair Wage Network to find out more about how we can contribute to more fair wages,” a spokeswoman for the Swedish high street retailer said.

“We believe that our presence and our engagement in Cambodia send positive signals that the questions raised are very important to H&M. However, H&M will not attend the Peoples’ Tribunal held in Cambodia this week due to many other engagements during the first months of 2012. We have often participated in similar initiatives, such as seminars and panels, and are often one of few or the only brand present,” she added.