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Mum’s the word at yearly brand forum

Cambodia's biggest international garment brands met yesterday to discuss wage issues, strikes and worker conditions, among other of the industry’s most pressing topics.

But in a year marked by a fatal building collapse at the Wing Star Shoes factory in Kampong Speu, mass demonstrations, and bankruptcies that have seen brands’ names dragged through the headlines, participants were unusually tight-lipped, while the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia – which organised the forum – repeatedly shooed away reporters attempting to speak with brand representatives.

The forum, which rotates between Cambodia and Vietnam each year, began in 2011. Brand representatives along with government officials and workers’ rights advocates attend two days of closed-door sessions where they discuss the pressing issues of the day.

Though members of the media have never been allowed inside the meetings, they have, at past conferences, been allowed to stand outside the meeting rooms and speak with attendees. At yesterday’s meeting, a BFC representative repeatedly asked reporters to leave Raffles Hotel Le Royal, where the event was held, telling them they should go through “the proper channels” rather than speaking to attendees.

After refusing, one Post reporter was subsequently instructed by hotel staff to leave.

Jill Tucker, BFC’s chief technical adviser, could not be reached for comment after the day’s sessions.

Earlier in the day, union officials and workers’ rights advocates spent two hours telling the group of some 60 representatives about what they see as the most pressing issues in Cambodia’s garment industry – which accounts for about 80 per cent of the Kingdom’s exports.

David Welsh, country director for Solidarity Centre/ACILS, said discussions largely revolved around continuing problems including low wages and factory owners’ unwillingness to collectively bargain with employees, often resulting in strikes.

“We’ve been talking about these issues for five or six years,” Welsh said. “It’s not rocket science.”



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