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Monitor, GMAC at odds over plan

Garment factory workers sew clothing for export at a factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district last month
Garment factory workers sew clothing for export at a factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district last month. HONG MENEA

Monitor, GMAC at odds over plan

The head of the Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program said yesterday that consultations on its new public-disclosure initiative have been going on for more than a year, contrary to claims by a garment factory representative who characterised the process as hasty.

Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for the UN-backed BFC, which is part of the International Labour Organization, said an earlier version of the plan was discussed with the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia’s secretary-general Ken Loo and government officials in September.

Subsequent meetings were then held with GMAC board members in February and July this year. During the latter, Tucker said, GMAC “clearly stated their opposition to transparency”.

“We are confused as to why they are saying they didn’t have sufficient consultation, unless of course Ken had not been speaking to his board,” she said, adding that BFC is gathering emails with GMAC to support its version of events.

On September 23, BFC announced plans to resume publicly disclosing reports on the labour standards at garment factories. The quarterly reports, due out in January, will be based on inspections beginning this month.

GMAC responded with an announcement in local media and letters to factory owners, stating that only one official meeting took place over the summer with BFC to discuss the resumption.

The short window, GMAC argued, gave employers little time to assess the “negative implications that might arise”.

GMAC has advised factory owners that unless BFC inspectors are accompanied by officials or a government letter, owners should “exercise discretion” before admitting them.

Tucker at BFC said that since GMAC’s statement, she has visited two factories and not had any pushback.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union, rallied quickly to BFC’s side.

Since 2012, Thorn also attended meetings with BFC, GMAC and the government to discuss the issue. He said that despite 430 out of 800 factories agreeing to the program, GMAC opposed it.

“I think even if we give them [GMAC] 10 more years, they will still not work it out.”

Acknowledging that the topic had been discussed in the past “over coffee”, Loo defended his argument that BFC failed to engage, yet continued to claim full support for public disclosure.

According to Loo, specifics were not discussed in July at a project advisory meeting, and a follow-up meeting has not been held. He requested that BFC delay the announcement, at least until after he had time to discuss it with the board on September 30, but alleges BFC ignored him and went ahead anyway.

“Today the relationship between BFC and the factories is at its worst,” he said.

The Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment.

BFC doesn’t monitor footwear, but its new safety compliance program comes months after two Cambodians died when a mezzanine floor collapsed at the Kampong Speu province Wing Star Shoes factory in May.

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