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Big brands talk labour rights

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Pairs of unfinished Puma shoes sit on Huey Chen’s assembly line in July, when the factory was forced to stop work for several days after a mass fainting episode.

The biggest names in the apparel industry, including Nike, Puma and Gap, would meet today with officials from the Ministry of Labour to discuss issues plaguing the Cambodian garment manufacturing industry, such as mass fainting and contractual disputes, labour activists said yesterday.

Dave Welsh, country director for the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said unions, the International Labour Organisation, buyers and rights groups would discuss serious issues such as occupational health and safety, nutrition and exploitative contracts.

“Every major garment brand in the world that you can imagine is going to be here,” Welsh said.

Unions had been preparing all week and would push hard against the practice whereby factories repeatedly placed garment workers on fixed- duration contracts, even if they had been long-term employees, he said.

“Fixed-duration contracts basically mean you’re an apprentice. You can work for six or seven months, and that’s fine, except you can end up doing it for eight years.”

At a separate meeting that was closed to the press yesterday, footwear companies gathered with key stakeholders to discuss similar issues within Cambodia’s shoe manufacturing factories.

Outbreaks of mass fainting have been repeatedly reported in Cambodian garment and shoe factories this year drawing criticism from rights groups and in one case, an independent investigation commissioned by Puma into one of its suppliers.

Helen Ford, a representative of Pentland group, which licenses Speedo and other brands, said on the sidelines of yesterday’s meeting that her organisation took occupational health and safety issues in Cambodia very seriously.

“I think collaboration in a forum to improve factory conditions for workers is extremely important. It’s a very difficult area to collaborate in because of the many parties that are involved, so an initiative like Better Factories Cambodia is ground-breaking,” she said.

Exploratory-level talks had been held into the possibility of setting up a regulatory representative body for shoe manufacturing companies in the Kingdom performing a similar role as the Garment Manufacturer’s Association in Cambodia.

Officials at the Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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