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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ministry refutes HRW report

A worker attaches tags to finished garments at a factory in Phnom Penh
A worker attaches tags to finished garments at a factory in Phnom Penh last year. The Ministry of Labour has denied claims of workplace abuses in the Cambodian garment industry. Vireak Mai

Ministry refutes HRW report

Calling a recently released report by Human Rights Watch about systematic Labour Law violations and corruption in Cambodia’s garment sector “groundless”, the Ministry of Labour said in a statement that its monitoring of the industry is transparent and competent.

The ministry’s statement calls into question HRW’s professionalism, and says the ministry’s work with the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) proves its sincerity in holding factories accountable.

“What is mentioned in the report of the [HRW] is unacceptable because it violates the ministry’s professionalism,” the statement reads.

“The ILO factory programs are excellent in Cambodia, and have been administered professionally and effectively.”

After reading the government’s reaction to the report, Aruna Kashyap, HRW’s senior researcher for the organisation’s Women’s Rights Division, said the government seems disingenuous in its commitment to ethical practices in the garment sector.

Even some data provided by the Labour Ministry appears to demonstrate a lack of sincere efforts, she said.

Friday’s statement reports that the ministry inspectors audited 7,191 factories in 2014. A December letter to HRW signed by Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng reports that they inspected 1,686 factories in the first 11 months of 2014, doling out fines to 25.

For both figures to be accurate, the ministry would have to have inspected more than 5,000 factories in the month of December alone.

“If they have to come up with the number of 7,151 . . . they’re doing about 200 inspections per day, which would seriously compromise the quality of inspections,” Kashyap said.

Further, the ministry has not disclosed how much it fined factories, whether factories paid the fines or what labour laws were violated.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour declined to comment beyond referring reporters to the ministry’s statement.

Instead of engaging with the data presented in HRW’s 140-page report, the government chose to attack the organisation, said Phil Robertson, HRW’s Asia deputy director.

“It’s obviously a purely defensive reaction by the Ministry of Labour,” Robertson said.

“They’re not rebutting our facts, they’re attacking us; [they] don’t have any substantive defence.”

Moeun Tola, head of the labour department at the Community Legal Education Center, said the response was expected. Government officials routinely refuse to accept constructive criticism, he added.

The ministry also said nothing about former labour inspectors who reported to HRW that they had personally received payoffs, Kashyap said.

“Living in denial is not going to improve the conditions in the factories,” she said.

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