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Advocates, employers tussle over compliance

Garment workers piece together clothes at the Grand Twin International Factory in Phnom Penh in  2014.
Garment workers piece together clothes at the Grand Twin International Factory in Phnom Penh in 2014. Vireak Mai

Advocates, employers tussle over compliance

Local garment sector stakeholders failed to find common ground at a meeting on supply chain safety protocols, with the government and employers expressing reluctance to take on an additional level of responsibility.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which organised the meeting with the Labour Ministry, yesterday introduced due diligence guidelines for supply chains. They aim to enable companies to identify and prevent human rights, labour and environmental violations, not only within their own firms, but also within their suppliers.

“These guidelines have already been adopted in 46 OECD countries,” said Jennifer Schappert, a textile and garment policy expert for OECD. “In terms of how Cambodia can engage, we have seen other countries develop standards that align with it to their context.”

The 150-page guidelines are non-binding but can be used by countries to ensure that manufacturers minimise risks associated with worker safety, forced labour and hazardous chemicals. Cambodia currently has its own labour compliance mechanisms, and the Ministry of Labour is charged with conducting inspections, but a lack of capacity has rendered these largely ineffective.

However, Houn Sokpheane-ath, an adviser to the Labour Ministry, said he was unsure whether Cambodian factories had the capability to implement more stringent guidelines.

“We have to see whether or not enterprises can convert these into good conditions for workers,” he said.

Schappert maintained the guidelines could be tweaked to a specific country’s needs. But employer representative Kaing Monika said that added costs were a drag on factories’ attempts to respond to the global push for increased supply chain compliance, saying businesses were caught between buyers and advocates.

“It is a request from buyers to keep prices low,” said Monika, the deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia. “We need to look at a fair price [for products] given by the buyer.”

The International Labour Org-anization’s Better Factories Program also assesses compliance among the Kingdom’s 600-plus garment-exporting factories, and BFC program manager Esther Germans yesterday said factories should look at compliance not as a cost, but an investment. “There needs to be a change of mindset,” she said. “Better compliance is bringing businesses benefits.”

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