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Map connects factories and buyers

Workers at M&V garment factory, a supplier of Swedish clothing giant H&M, demonstrate in Phnom Penh earlier this month.  Vireak Mai
Workers at M&V garment factory, a supplier of Swedish clothing giant H&M, demonstrate in Phnom Penh earlier this month. Vireak Mai

Map connects factories and buyers

In light of ongoing disputes over working conditions in the garment sector, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) released yesterday details on hundreds of factories it believes will offer greater transparency along the garment supply chain – from producers to buyers – and shine a light on those responsible for rights violations within Cambodia’s largest export industry.

Posted on the CCHR website, the “Garment Factory Map” details 559 factory locations, the nationality of owners, the number of employees and, where information is available, the international brands that the local producers supply.

To scroll through the report is to see the endless variety of products made by Cambodians and worn abroad, from the normal – underwear and footwear – to the unexpected – hospital gowns and ballet shoes.

CCHR president Ou Virak said by allowing consumers, workers, unions, investors, governments and buyers greater insight into an often complex supply chain, all players can be held to greater account, ultimately highlighting and applying greater pressure on the factories where violations occur.

Virak also hopes that consumers will be more closely connected to the conditions in which their purchases are made.

“While more work needs to be done to trace the supply chains for specific factories where human rights abuses are most prevalent, this map is a step in the right direction towards providing shareholders, consumers and all other interested parties with the necessary information about these factories and their suppliers,” he said.

Activists argue that though companies have policies in place to protect workers rights, the policies are not always extended to contracting factories from which they source.

Virak said that it’s in the best interests of companies to mitigate the business risks of rights violations by publishing the details of their sourcing factories and creating greater accountability up front.

“[The garment factory map] is the beginning; hopefully the companies will take responsibility,” he said.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo acknowledges the complexity of the garment supply chain, and while he agrees that it could lead to greater pressure applied to buyers during worker disputes, this would occur only “on the basis if the factory is at fault”.

“Sometimes I don’t know what customers source from which factory because it is difficult to track,” he said.

Loo said that, for the moment, such transparency will have little affect on consumer decision-making. “I don’t think consumers are at that level of sophistication yet,” he said. “The consumer is trying to make a distinction between garments made in country “A” between garments made in country “B”, to go down to the factory level is another 10 years or more away.”

But Dave Welsh, country manager for Solidarity Center/ACILS, said that “any sort of information is helpful”, and that buyers should be held to greater account. He cites the example of Sweden-based H&M for its move in March to reveal factories from which they source.

“The MO [for the brands] is, whenever anything goes awry in a garment factory, to buy time by saying these are subcontractors and, ‘we don’t really know the ins and outs of the situation, we will investigate,’ which is routinely untrue but it gives them cover, so by providing transparency on the contracting level is really the key.”

Until very recently Cambodia was spared associations with Bangladesh, where a factory collapse killed more than 1,000 workers on April 1.

In May, however, two people died after a mezzanine floor collapsed at the Wing Star Shoes factory in Kampong Speu province. Just days later a kiosk and connecting walkway collapsed at Top World Garment factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, injuring over 20 workers.

Leading brands highlighted in CCHR’s garment factory map include Macy’s, Levi’s, Puma, Nike, Gap and Walmart, all listed as having factory suppliers in Cambodia. Representatives from the companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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