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Brands tell GMAC to dial it down

Some of the world’s largest clothing brands have warned the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia of possible business ramifications should the factory representative continue with plans to impede labour monitoring.

Thirteen major buyers, including Gap, H&M, Levi’s, Nike and Puma, have signed a letter to GMAC expressing “concern” over its recent directive advising factory owners to “exercise discretion” before admitting monitors unaccompanied by government officials.

“The undersigned brands therefore respectfully request that GMAC withdraw its 30 September notice to its members and make no further effort to undermine BFC’s operations,” the October 15 letter reads, referring to monitor Better Factories Cambodia.

All of the brands “further encourage GMAC to take a broader and longer term view of the implications of GMAC’s recent members’ directive and consider its potential negative implications on trade with Cambodia”.

Better Factories Cambodia last month announced it would resume publicly disclosing reports on labour standards in Cambodia’s garment factories. Disclosure will begin in January and be based on inspections starting this month.

GMAC responded to the disclosure plan with the directive to factory owners and with advertisements in local media, stating its members had not been given enough time to assess the initiative. The association, which counts some 450 factories as members, also said it had been “undermined” in its partnership with BFC.

Addressed to GMAC chairman Van Sou Ieng, the letter marks the first time that a united front of buyers has stepped into the fray, describing the instructions about factory visits from GMAC as “deeply troubling”.

But despite the call to hamper the efforts of factory monitors, BFC said its staffers have not been blocked from doing their job.

“We have not, so far, had any difficulties in getting entrance to factories and are continuing factory-monitoring operations as normal,” said BFC consultant Maeve Galvin.

Galvin said BFC had no hand in the coordination of the letter in “any way”.

Ken Loo, GMAC secretary general, is standing by his directive to members while continuing to claim support for public disclosure.

In an official letter of response to buyers, Loo states that a government presence at factories will not compromise independence, but will “in fact enhance the effectiveness of BFC monitoring”.

Loo said in an interview yesterday that labour law gives the right to the government to inspect as well as sanction those that are non-compliant. He added that having government officials accompany BFC monitors will
legitimise inspections.

“They (BFC) are trying to achieve greater enforcement by public disclosure, but the mechanisms for enforcement already exist but BFC has not been making use of them.”

He also alleged that buyers sent sourcing factories letters to ignore GMAC’s directive and let monitors in.

Asked if he was concerned about negative trade implications alluded to in the letter from brands, Loo responded that it should be taken in general terms of everyone working together, “which is why we need to stand firm”.

“If BFC does not treat GMAC as a bonafide partner in the Cambodian garment industry, I don’t think that they will be able to achieve much.”

Spokespeople for H&M and Gap said that they needed more time to respond to a request for comment, while representatives for Levi's and Puma did not immediately return emails.

Sat Samoth, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, could not be reached for comment.



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