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Garment workers work in a factory in Phnom Penh's Por Sen Chey district in 2014.
Garment workers work in a factory in Phnom Penh's Por Sen Chey district in 2014. Vireak Mai

Brands called out over pledges on minimum wage

A Labour Ministry official yesterday called out international clothing brands for not fulfilling a pledge last year to increase the amount they pay for clothing to support minimum wage rises in the Kingdom’s garment sector, according to a statement.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour was speaking during a panel debate during the first day of IndustriALL Global Union’s executive committee meeting in Phnom Penh.

Its agenda covered trade unions, living wages and collective bargaining, three highly relevant topics for Cambodia as the garment industry prepares to implement a new $140 minimum wage next month and with the controversial trade union law now in the hands of parliamentarians.

During the discussion, Sour called on brands to do more to support higher wages, citing an “unfulfilled” pledge by eight companies including H&M, Inditex, C&A, N Brown Group plc, Tchibo, Next Retail Ltd, Primark and New Look to increase the amount they pay for clothes sourced from Cambodia.

“The government can’t act alone. We need to work with the brands and investors to make sure there is no exploitation of cheap labour,” Sour said, according to a statement released by IndustriALL after the closed-door meeting.

“If brands commit to a higher minimum wage, we can increase it. But very few . . . brands have actually increased their orders since their joint letter to the government in September last year.”

Some 200 IndustriALL delegates, representing 50 million workers in the manufacturing industry, are taking part in the two-day meeting at Raffles hotel.

At a media briefing prior to the meeting, IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina said $140 was far from a “living wage”, and also expressed disappointment that the companies’ pledge had yet to translate to action.

“To us it’s clear that the brands have to pay more, they have to do it here, in Vietnam, in Indonesia, but these purchasing practices are a bit more complicated than that, these major brands, they need to build long-term relationships so they are in a country to stay.”

Raina said that he hoped the Action Collaboration Transformation (ACT) would deliver results.

ACT has signed up almost 20 major brands to help create industry-wide collective bargaining mechanisms. Cambodia will be the project’s pilot.

Speaking later in the debate, H&M sustainability country manager Jonah Wigerhall, said the company supported the new approach and was working to improve wages globally.

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