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Garment factory workers sew clothing for export at a factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district earlier this month
Garment factory workers sew clothing for export at a factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district earlier this month. HONG MENEA

Labour monitor to name factories

Responding to deteriorating working conditions in the garment sector, the UN-backed Better Factories Cambodia program is going to make public, for the first time in years, how factories fare against international labour standards, the monitoring group said.

Starting in January, BFC, which is part of the International Labour Organization, will publish quarterly online compliance reports for more than 450 exporting garment factories that have already had two or more assessments and are registered with the program.

“We urge brands, auditing firms and corporate social responsibility organisations to join us in this step towards greater transparency … in the apparel sector,” said Jill Tucker, ILO-Better Factories Cambodia chief technical advisor.

The plan, however, has the government, stakeholders in the industry and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) all concerned that it could prompt buyers to relocate to another country.

“This public disclosure could result in a greater negative than a positive,” GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo said yesterday.

Loo said buyers do their own audits, and even though GMAC is in favour of transparency, he argues that more time is needed to study the potential impacts this decision could have.

Factory assessments carried out from October are to be made public in January. Prior to disclosure, factories will be given the opportunity via a pre-report to clean up their act before an official assessment against criteria of 21 “critical issues” is released online.

The criteria, according to BFC, are in line with Cambodian labour law and international standards. They include correct payment of wages, no child labour, freedom of expression and fire safety.

Entering Cambodia in 2001, BFC stopped disclosing factory names in 2005 in a bid to enhance competitiveness after certain US trade preferences ceased.

Tucker, with BFC, said the country now needs to take steps to enhance its reputation at a time when producers from larger countries are also tightening monitoring.

Like GMAC, the government is also concerned that buyers may shy away, closing factories and leaving workers jobless.

“Right now, the three parties [ILO and factory owners and unions] are not in agreement, because the owners are afraid this will affect their businesses when they release the names to the public,” said Sat Samuth, under secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour.

Though BFC doesn’t yet monitor footwear, the announcement comes after two Cambodians died when a mezzanine floor crumbled at the Wing Star Shoes factory in May.

BFC will also publish names of unions that lead strikes not conforming with “legal requirements”.

Kong Athit, vice-president of the Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, welcomed “responsible transparency”, but said a balance needs to be struck in which employers are also held to account during disputes.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY KUNMAKARA

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