GREATER transparency along the garment supply chain, from producers to buyers, is required in order to strengthen the accountability of retailers, factories and governments in protecting the rights of workers, Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said yesterday.
“There are a lot of obstacles in the relationship between the producers and consumers, with a lack of detailed information about the supply process made available,” he said. “The connection is blurred, ultimately deflecting responsibility to the detriment of workers.”
Speaking in Phnom Penh at a discussion on business and human rights in the garment sector, Virak made reference to the recent case of workers left jobless after the closing of a Cambodian factory.
Workers have taken their protest to the Swedish Embassy, claiming H&M, an international buyer of Cambodian garments, should share in the responsibility of lost wages, but H&M say the factory was no longer producing their products at the time it closed.
Virak said that because buyers have multiple producers and record keeping at factories is not always kept up to date, responsibility for workers’ rights violations are unclear.
“It is difficult to identify who is responsible. By design somebody plans to create the layers.”
According to Som Aun, president of the Cambodian Labour Union Federation, increased transparency is needed by suppliers also.
“Some factories complain they lose, but we have seen them expand their operations every year,” Aun said. “Labour should get 40 per cent of the total profit, but how do we know how much there is if the total profits are never released?”
Virak said it would not cost much for buyers to simply release all the information on their websites. “I believe that some buyers would have an interest in doing this to reduce disputes,” he said.
H&M, Nike, GAP, Walmart, GAP, Levis, Adidas, and Puma are the major manufacturers who buy garments from Cambodia.
Hacan Andersson, a Sweden-based spokesman for H&M, said while their garments are currently labelled with the country of origin, they do not publish a supplier list.
“So far we have not done this for competitive reasons, but we are also looking in to the possibilities about how we can publish it in the future” he said.
For the first two months of this year, the number of labour disputes increased 50 per cent compared with the same period last year, said Yim Serey Vathanak, national project co-ordinator of the International Labor Organization.
He added that such disputes are negatively affecting the reputation of the industry and said immediate intervention is need to secure the sector.
“It is a main engine for the Cambodian economy, and we have to be curious and try to discover any possible method to protect the healthiness of the manufacturing,” Serey Vathanak said.