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Brands ‘failing their workers’

A garment worker yells slogans while holding a placard during protests in Phnom Penh’s Russian Boulevard in January calling for a $160 minimum wage
A garment worker yells slogans while holding a placard during protests in Phnom Penh’s Russian Boulevard in January calling for a $160 minimum wage. Vireak Mai

Brands ‘failing their workers’

European mega-brands are not doing enough to ensure that the Cambodian workers who make their products receive a basic living wage, according to a report released today.

Tailored Wages, an analysis of 50 of Europe’s biggest clothing brands, found that many major high-street chains are doing little to combat the meagre wages of Cambodian garment workers.

The report was produced by the Clean Clothes Campaign, an alliance of organisations in 16 European countries, in cooperation with the Asia Floor Wage, an alliance of trade unions and labour rights activists.

“A living wage is a human right. Yet the scandalous truth is that the majority of workers in the global fashion industry cannot afford to live with dignity,” the report says.

Calls for a monthly minimum wage of $160 reached a breaking point in January when security forces cracked down on protesters, killing at least four and detaining 23. Twenty-one remain in prison.

According to the report, as per United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, “in cases where the state fails to protect human rights – such as when the legal minimum wage fails to meet the minimum subsistence level (living wage) – business still has an obligation to respect the human right to a living wage”.

The monthly minimum wage of garment workers across Cambodia stands at just $100.

Using questionnaires, which asked companies to provide “practical, concrete information” about their work, the report found that none of those surveyed, including H&M and Puma, “are as yet paying a living wage”.

One of the brands slammed for its inaction was Gap, which the report said showed “little proof of real work that will improve wages for workers making its clothes”.

While fairing better in the survey, the efforts of H&M, Puma and New Look are also described as “unconvincing”.

Levi Strauss & Co, one of 15 brands that declined to respond to the survey, is described as lacking “any real commitment to increase wages”.

Joel Preston, a consultant with the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), said yesterday that aside from a living wage, brands are not doing enough to ensure that “even the basic needs” of Cambodian garment workers are met.

“There is a huge gap between what the brands say and what the brands do.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric, roadmaps, guidelines, but in terms of tangible benefits for the workers we haven’t seen any,” he said. “If brands want to say they are socially responsible and get the marketing benefits from that, they need to start taking concrete action.”

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