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Brands proving free lunches might exist

Major international garment and shoe brands have expressed interest in funding a food program that would feed Cambodian factory workers lunches in an effort to improve health and productivity, a labour advocate said on Wednesday.

Dave Welsh, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said he raised the idea of a brands-sponsored food program with representatives of 14 brands that source from the Kingdom, including Nike, PUMA, Gap and Walt Disney, during a forum in Hong Kong this week.

“Brands, especially Nike, were positive about this idea,” he said. “It’s something they could help contribute to . . . and it’s well within their means.”

Such a program, Welsh said, would improve the health – and therefore the productivity – of workers in industries known for fainting.

“A brands-sponsored food program would take the issue [of health] out of the wage equation,” he said, referring to a $5-per-month salary increase for garment and shoe factory workers the government enacted in January.

The salary increase was designed to help workers remain healthy, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in November; however, Welsh said yesterday that property owners and food sellers had lifted their prices, thus negating the benefits for factory workers.

“Many factory workers live in the same areas,” he said. “When the $5 raise came in, rent and food prices went up,” he said.

Welsh said the idea was an opportunity for garment industry players, including unions and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, to agree on something.

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo said a “handful of factories, maybe slightly more” were already offering meals to workers at their own expense, while others were offering allowances or rice.

These rations, however, came from the companies’ own pockets and GMAC was in support of brands sponsoring food programs to ensure all workers were reached, Loo said.

“It’s nothing new. Many of the brands already offer food to workers in supplier factories in other countries,” he said. “Why not in Cambodia?”

A food program funded by brands – directly or indirectly – would have many benefits, including reducing fainting, Loo said.

A follow-up meeting about the food program will be held in September, Welsh said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com

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