The Ministry of Environment is set to join the Ministry of Labour in the monitoring of garment factory workplaces, after creating a working group that will probe the environmental safety of all plants in Cambodia.
At a press conference at the ministry yesterday, Minister of Environment Say Samal told reporters that the newly formed group will soon begin auditing factories in Phnom Penh and Kandal province, and then move on to other provinces.
“We are already preparing to begin the campaign to clean garment factories by creating a working group, which will be joined by all local authorities with relevant skills,” Samal said.
The group will survey how chemicals and fumes in factories impact the health of workers and surrounding ecosystems.
Management will be advised on what must be done to reach an acceptable environmental status, Samal said yesterday.
“We have already sent a letter to all companies in order to advise them to conduct an environmental impact assessment before we come, because we want them to be informed of our planned visits.”
Further government oversight of factories should be a step forward, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.
Although garment factory workplaces are already monitored by the Labour Ministry and institutions like the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are few penalties for factories that do not meet appropriate standards, and thus, little motivation for improving conditions, Welsh said.
“Violations uncovered by the ILO or the government rarely result in any kind of punishment or rectification,” Welsh said. “There’s very little incentive to be compliant.”
Under the new working group inspections, factories will be given six months to make prescribed enhancements, Samal said. If the changes are not made, the factory will either be fined or the Ministry of Environment will make improvements themselves, with the factory footing the bill.
The new inspections are, in theory, a good way to make sure factories are complying with government standards for environmental friendliness and workplace health, said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union. But Thorn said he remained sceptical that they would actually push factory owners to upgrade conditions.
“The Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Labour, and some other ministries have inspected already, but nothing changed,” Thorn said. “The reality of change, we don’t believe it.”