The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has expressed disappointment at the European Commission’s (EC’s) recent decision to suspended one-fifth of the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme awarded to Cambodia.
It called on the EU to promptly reinstate full EBA privileges to enhance sustainable development and support hundreds of thousands of workers who will be affected by the withdrawal.
The main beneficiaries of EBA are the Kingdom’s garment and travel goods sectors, which are represented by GMAC, it said in a press release.
GMAC said the two sectors have helped lift millions of Cambodians, especially women, out of poverty, with employment exceeding 750,000 workers.
It called on the EC and Members of the European Parliament to reconsider their decision, citing the values under which it was first implemented nearly 20 years ago – developmental assistance, poverty reduction and the dignity of employment.
The partial withdrawal will lead to nothing more than job losses and poverty, it said.
“The association urges the EU to act quickly to restore full EBA benefits for the sake of sustainable development and for the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who have risen from poverty to gain employment, advance their rights and support their families,” GMAC said.
It noted that it had established a culture of transparency and accountability in labour compliance and working conditions.
“GMAC was the first association in the world to welcome the UN International Labour Organisation to establish a monitoring programme to inspect our factories for compliance with national and international labour requirements.
“GMAC respects and supports the EU’s engagement to improve its human rights policies. Unfortunately, summarily pulling the rug from under the feet of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians is not the way to proceed.”
“The EU’s decision is bound to cause confusion with respect to our trade status. It will incentivise buyers to sources from countries with far weaker legacies of trade union rights.
“It will increase poverty in our country and make it more difficult to improve wages and benefits for other workers,” it said.
Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina on Monday said the partial withdrawal of EBA will bring negative repercussions to the Kingdom.
“Negative consequences will be felt among relevant partners. They [the EU] see a situation and compare it to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam.
“They deem that our country is indeed morally worse than these countries, which prompts them to decide to withdraw it [EBA] partially,” he said.
He said the withdrawal will compel the Kingdom’s major buyers to reconsider whether or not to continue operations here.
“What we fear most is buyers halting or reducing purchases – like H&M, a major global buyer. If major companies reduce their purchases, it will affect workers,” Sina said.
He said there is sufficient time for Cambodia and the EU to find a solution to the issues that the EC cited before August 12 – when the decision takes effect.
“The EU has seen that we Khmer aren’t that morally bankrupt. If the EU had deemed otherwise, it would not have withdrawn only 20 per cent [of EBA]. We still have time to make things right,” he said.
Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment on Monday.
However, he told the press that despite the withdrawal, Cambodia remains determined to promote working conditions and respect workers’ rights and freedoms. These are government priorities.