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Brands’ eyes on verdicts of 23

A prison truck arrives at Phnom Penh Municipal Court
A prison truck arrives at Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week with people who were detained during violent strikes in January on the capital’s Veng Sreng Boulevard. Heng Chivoan

Brands’ eyes on verdicts of 23

As 23 men accused of violent crimes stemming from demonstrations earlier this year brace for a verdict against them today, civil society groups are alleging that no credible evidence was presented by the prosecution during the entire trial.

Nearly five months after soldiers arrested 10 men at a protest in front of Yakjin garment factory on January 2, and 13 others on Veng Sreng Boulevard a day later, the 23, as they’ve come to be known, face sentencing on crimes ranging from incitement to intentional violence. At least four workers were shot dead by state security forces during the deadly garment strikes.

“The consensus among civil society is there’s not one shred of evidence that can be used to convict any of the 23 of the crimes they’re accused of,” said Joel Preston, a consultant from the Community Legal Education Center, which is providing legal representation for some defendants.

Preston said a guilty verdict and harsh sentencing could result in a major backlash in the international community – namely, from clothing brands that source products from Cambodia.

Today’s verdict comes at the end of a jam-packed week of labour-related talks and negotiations, which were made more tense by the looming court date.

After a Monday meeting between government officials, an international labour union and brands that include Puma, H&M, Gap Inc and Levi Strauss, the buyers released a statement saying the verdict should hinge on evidence that holds up to international scrutiny.

The statement warned that instability in the garment sector could result in Cambodia losing its “status as a strategic sourcing market”.

IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Jyrki Raina reported after the meeting that one of the four major brands had already cut orders from factories in Cambodia by 50 per cent.

Global brands’ specific interest in Cambodia’s garment sector practices confounded Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour.

“If the international brands are concerned about the 23 [defendants], then why are they not concerned about their [business] in countries where conditions are much worse than [in] Cambodia?” Sour asked.

Yesterday also marked the end of a workshop on a draft union law attended by representatives from unions, industry and the government.

The ministry will take comments into consideration and possibly hold another workshop before the draft legislation goes before the National Assembly, Sour said.

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