Protesting Won Rex garment factory workers clash with military police as they attempt to march to the hotel where US officials were discussing labor standards on November 19.
UNDREDS of workers from a local garment factory staged a strike on November 19 that
degenerated into violence. The protesters sought to address a list of grievances
including intimidation, unpaid overtime and illegal firings.
The group attempted to march 10 km to Hotel Le Royal where US officials were meeting
to discuss working conditions in Cambodia's garment factories. They were met by military
police who blocked their path, beating some and arresting seven.
Despite the violence, the International Labor Organization, a UN body, has reported
that conditions in garment factories generally meet international standards. It found
evidence of late payments and unpaid overtime, but did not report any forced or child
US officials at the meeting generally praised Cambodia for its labor conditions and
predicted that business would continue to boom if it maintained them.
"Buyers do not want to purchase products produced by sweatshops," said
Robert Hagen, a US State Department official in the Office of International Labor
Affairs. "Buyers want to buy products from workers who are treated with dignity."
Hagen arrived as part of a routine visit connected with the 1999 US agreement establishing
export quotas for Cambodia. They are credited with fueling much of the sector's growth
in recent years.
The industry, which employs more than 200,000 people, accounts for 36 percent of
the country's gross domestic product and virtually all of its exports. However, quotas
will end in January 2005.
Ek Sopheakdey, 28, advisor to the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic
Union representing some workers from the Won Rex garment factory in the protest,
said he wanted to call attention to the workers' problems. He said he was beaten
by military police and taken to jail along with six others who were released later
The owner of Won Rex garment factory is now negotiating with worker representatives
and trade unions to end the dispute.
"I can accept workers' suggestion, but those suggestions have to be correct
with Cambodian labor law," said the factory owner at a press conference on November
17 at the Hotel InterContinental.
Ker Soksidney, a labor rights official at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labor,
Vocational Training and Youth Rehabilitation, said he did not know whether the workers'
suggestions were reasonable or not. He said he would wait until negotiations had
concluded before launching an investigation.