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Garment workers protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in 2014 to demand that suppliers of US clothing retailer Gap pay them higher wages.
Garment workers protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in 2014 to demand that suppliers of US clothing retailer Gap pay them higher wages. Vireak Mai

Report calls out Gap suppliers for labour abuses

Labour rights abuses are taking place at Cambodian supplier factories for US clothing retailer Gap Inc, according to a new report, the latest in a series aimed at bringing attention to perennially poor conditions in the Kingdom’s garment industry ahead of the International Labour Organization’s annual conference next month.

The report found instances of workers being employed on fixed-duration contracts, being forced to work long overtime hours and being denied social security benefits. In one example from the report, workers often exceeded the 48-hour work week without taking paid evening breaks during overtime.

“The ILO – the only global tripartite institution – has a unique role to play in setting standards for all the actors that impact fundamental principles and rights at work,” the report said. Representatives at Gap headquarters in San Francisco didn’t respond for comment by press time.

The allegations come on the heels of a report also released by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance that found similar working conditions at several Cambodian supplier factories for Swedish apparel giant H&M.

Despite the call to action for the ILO, Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, said he was doubtful that conditions would change after next month’s conference, which would only result in “promises and promises”.

“What will be the concrete proposal to make it happen, and how will brand companies work with suppliers to make improvements happen?” he asked, adding that it’s up to the government to act to make improvements.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, agreed that changes need to come from the government, noting the use of subcontractor factories – which are not always as closely overseen – as an increasing cause for concern. “The big companies, they use subcontracts because they want to escape monitoring,” he said.

This year’s ILO conference will focus on global supply chains, according to Esther Germans, manager for ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia. ILO’s 2016 report, titled Decent Work in Global Supply Chains, will be discussed during the conference, and conference participants will settle on a set of recommendations at the close of the conference, Germans said.

Global supply chains have created opportunities for suppliers to move up to higher-value activities and have enabled workers to access employment requiring a higher level of skills with better pay, but sometimes at a price, ILO’s report states.

“However, there are also ample examples where global supply chains lead to deficits in decent work,” the report reads. “Challenges for decent work existed in many countries before they engaged in global supply chains. In some instances, the operation of the chains has perpetuated or intensified them, or created new ones.”

A previous version of this article stated that participants at an annual ILO conference would not settle on recommendations until after the close of the conference. In fact, the conference will close with the adoption of a set of recommendations. The Post apologises for any confusion caused.
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