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Prison labour still a threat: rights group

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Inmates sew garments at a prison in Cambodia. Photograph: supplied

Prisoners still face being exploited for labour, despite the government’s March prakas banning goods made behind bars from being exported, rights group Licadho has said.

Although Licadho believes the prakas will help protect the image of Cambodia’s garment industry, it says inmates still face exploitation under a prison law introduced in December that allows private companies to employ prisoners for domestic production.

“Under international law, the leasing of prison labour to private entities – even if the resulting products are only sold domestically – is a legal minefield,” Licadho’s briefing paper released today states.

Prisoners are not paid comparable wages to those outside, if they are paid at all, and it is difficult to determine what work is carried out voluntarily, it continues.

“International law bans the use of forced labour by private firms – it doesn’t matter if the firm is exporting its goods or producing for domestic production,” Licadho director Naly Pilorge said.

“The law permits prisoners to volunteer for such work, but also requires that specific protections be in place to ensure that work is indeed voluntary.

“Cambodia has none of these protections, and it’s not clear the prison system is capable of implementing them.”

Dave Welsh, country director of American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said monitoring working conditions in prisons remains an issue.

“Workers in a prison are entitled to the same benefits as a normal worker; the problem is, [prisons] are not monitored”.

Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser at Better Factories Cambodia, however, said ministers involved in prison legislation and prison officials were becoming more aware of Cambodia’s human rights responsibilities following a meeting in March.

“Captive, involuntary labour should not be allowed to compete with free labour – that was one of the main issues,” she said, adding that washing laundry for hospitals and sewing police and military uniforms were discussed as acceptable work for prisoners.

Kuy Bunson, general-director of the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, declined to comment yesterday, while Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, could not be reached.

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

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