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Walmart, H&M at table

hunger
Workers formerly employed by the Kingsland Garment factory, which closed down in December, take part in a two-day hunger strike yesterday. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

As more than 80 workers from the shuttered Kingsland Garment factory enter day two of a hunger strike today, their representatives will meet with retail giants Walmart and H&M seeking more than $200,000 in owed wages and benefits.

To heap pressure on the two buyers – both of which claim their business with Kingsland ended months before the factory closed – workers began their hunger strike outside the Phnom Penh factory yesterday.

“We’re not eating ... to seek a fair solution regarding our wages,” worker Or Sokuong said.

The Hong Kong-based owners fled in late December, workers claim, after months of reduced production, leaving hundreds broke and out of work.

Today’s meeting will bring together workers, labour-rights groups, H&M and its supplier New Archid as well as Walmart and its supplier Saramax.

H&M spokeswoman Anna Eriksson declined to comment yesterday on what the company expected the outcome of the meeting would be, but said the matter was of “high priority”.

She reiterated, however, that H&M ceased its orders from the factory last year, and it was Kingsland’s responsibility to pay wages and benefits.

Workers have also placed demands on the government to pay them – just as it did last week with more than 7,000 workers at Yung Wah Industrial, twin garments factories in Takhmao town that also closed in late December.

Sing Mon, a member of a strike committee at the Ministry of Social Affairs, however, said the closures could not be compared.

“How can we solve this like Yung Wah?” he said, referring to the government’s $6.5 million payout. “Yung Wah’s owner guaranteed to pay the government back later. In the case of Kingsland, the owner escaped.”

According to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, Yung Wah’s owners went bankrupt, and it was unlikely its assets would fetch more than about $1 million.

Separately, the opposition parties jumped into the debate over worker compensation yesterday, proposing a $150 per month national minimum wage and a $250 minimum wage for civil servants, just a day after unions in the garment sector failed to secure a $100 minimum wage during talks with factories.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MEAS SOKCHEA

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