WASHINGTON — The slaying last week of a prominent Cambodian union leader who helped organize garment factories there has “cast a dark cloud” on the country’s human rights record, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association.
Chea Vichea, president of Cambodia’s Free Trade Union of Workers and a labor leader in the Cambodian apparel industry, was fatally shot Thursday in Phnom Penh, the nation’s capital.
Many U.S. trade associations closely watch for improvement in Cambodia’s labor standards and workers’ rights because such advancements are tied to greater U.S. market access under Cambodia’s bilateral textile agreement with the U.S. Vichea was instrumental in defending workers’ rights and negotiating labor disputes.
“This act of murder casts a dark cloud over all of the work that has occurred in the last five years to present Cambodia’s apparel industry to the world as one that respects the right of its workers and assures that internationally respected labor standards are met,” said Kevin Burke, AAFA president and chief executive officer. “We remain hopeful that Chea Vichea’s legacy will be a Cambodian apparel industry that is such a model of success, but clearly, immediate steps must be taken to find those responsible and to hold them fully accountable.”
Burke stopped short of calling for a cutback in apparel and textile quotas.
“This is an isolated, but sad incident,” said Burke. “If this was a consistent pattern and happening all of the time, further action would be taken by the association. Hopefully this is not a setback because Cambodia has made great strides in a short period of time.”
Cambodia’s apparel and textile pact with the U.S., which went into effect in 1999, ties labor standards to greater U.S. market access through quota increases, instead of giving automatic increases. The pact, originally a three-year deal which was extended for another three years in 2001, expires at the end of the year. Cambodia was granted a 14 percent rise in its 2004 quota allotment based on improvements in labor standards and rights.
For the year ended Nov. 30, imports of apparel and textiles from Cambodia were valued at $1.25 billion, according to the Commerce Department.