Garment and footwear workers began testifying yesterday at a “people’s tribunal” on working conditions and wages organised by a regional advocacy alliance that aims to establish a “living wage” for garment workers in Asia.
“If I get sick, I don’t have any money for treatment,” a worker at a factory that supplies Adidas and Reebok told the meeting of more than 300 workers, unionists and rights advocates from around the globe.
She can earn up to US$95 a month with overtime, but was in debt to her landlord to cover her expenses, she said.
Jeroen Merk, a representative of the Clean Clothes Campaign, said that one of the tribunal’s aims was to reveal “the contradiction between what the buyers say to consumers and the reality of life on the factory floor”.
The first tribunal was held in Sri Lanka last year, and two more will be held this year in Indonesia and India, he said, with findings from all four to be collected and presented at a global tribunal.
Corporations have been driving down prices for 20 years, Jeroen Merk said, adding that “the race to the bottom” required strategic bargaining among unions in Asia as well as pressure from consumers in developed countries.
Merk said there was a “common interest between the manufacturers and the workers”, because both were being squeezed by buyers.
Dave Welsh, country director of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, agreed, saying that “strategically, the [Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia] and unions could work together” to push for higher payments from buyers.
GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo told the Post last week that GMAC would not be attending the event.
“A tribunal implies someone has committed a crime,” he said.
He agreed, however, with many of the points raised by labour rights advocates.
“Buyers are hypocrites,” he said, explaining that during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis Cambodia’s garment industry saw orders plunge 20 to 25 per cent, while exports from Bangladesh – where compliance with labour laws are far lower – remained “pretty constant”.