A letter from eight international clothing brands seemingly assuring the Cambodian government of plans to increase the amount they pay for clothing, thus enabling wage increases for workers in the sector, has left unionists and advocates sceptical.
Dated September 18, the message addressed to Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon and the heads of three ministries says the increased amount the companies are willing to pay reflects their commitment to a fair living wage.
“As responsible businesses our purchasing practices will enable the payment of a fair living wage and increased wages will be reflected in our [delivered goods] prices,” the letter reads. “We also expect government and [the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia] to establish processes to ensure all workers receive the new agreed minimum wage by monitoring wage implementation.”
While the communication appears to show good faith on the part of the letter’s signatories – which include H&M, Inditex, C&A, N Brown Group plc, Tchibo, Next Retail Ltd, Primark and New Look – it still seems to leave the government responsible for setting a minimum wage, without a guarantee of any specific amount, said Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center.
Although these corporations have engaged with the government, none have reached out to factories or unions, Tola said.
“I think at least it’s good the brands said something about the wage, but it’s still not a clear position that the brands will come up with a [deal] with the unions,” Tola said. “It seems that the brands are playing a trick again; they kick the ball to the government and GMAC to set the minimum wage.”
After reading the correspondence, Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina pointed out that its wording includes no direct pledge to increase the amount brands currently pay factories.
The letter amounts to little more than what is included in each signatories’ code of conduct, said a spokesperson for the Free Trade Union (FTU).
“If they want us to believe them that they really have commitment to pay our workers [higher] wages, they need to have a meeting with the supplier factory [and agree] that they will pay their workers [a higher amount],” the spokesperson said. “If they only talk about living wage, it is nothing.”
In separate email responses, signatories H&M and C&A both said they are working closely with the International Labour Organization to ensure progress on the issue.
Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour yesterday said with or without the brands’ letter, Cambodia’s minimum wage negotiation process – which concludes in October – is in motion and adheres to international standards.
“The minimum wage is not based on the international brands,” Sour said. “It is based on the consensus of the [Labour Ministry’s] Labour Advisory Committee.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TAING VIDA