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Hunger strike threatened at Kingsland

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Workers protest yesterday outside the Kingsland Garment factory, which had produced undergarments for Walmart and H&M before it closed down. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Stranded workers at the closed-down Kingsland Garment factory said yesterday they would go on hunger strike today until Prime Minister Hun Sen and the global companies that had bought from the factory – Walmart and H&M – help resolve an outstanding $200,000 wage issue.

Or Sokuong, one of about 700 workers who lost their jobs when the Hong Kong-owned factory closed unannounced in late December, said the workers would begin fasting outside Kingsland, in the capital’s Meanchey district, where many have slept.

“We want to know whether they have pity for us or not,” she said. “We don’t have money to buy food, to support family and give to our parents anymore,” he said.

Walmart and H&M have both previously played down their responsibility to the workers – both claimed their orders finished before the factory closed – but will send representatives to meet tomorrow with government officials, representatives of the workers, who are not members of a union, and other groups including the Community Legal Education Center and Better Factories Cambodia.

Soun Sokhum, 51, who worked at Kingsland for 11 years, said she and her colleagues had been left with nothing and were struggling to – or couldn’t – pay their rent.

“I moved to live with my sister a month ago,” she said. “I worked to earn money for when I retired, but the factory’s closed and I haven’t been paid [seniority bonuses].”

In an open letter to Walmart and H&M obtained yesterday, workers said they welcomed the companies’ representatives coming to Cambodia tomorrow to discuss the closure.

“The Ministry of Social Affairs tells us that they plan to sell the machines at the factory,” the letter says. “Their offer of compensation is much, much less than what is required under the law.”  

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL

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