The garment factory monitoring program that has helped establish Cambodia as a top
choice for conscientious buyers will be handed over to the government, unions and
manufacturers by 2009.
"Better Factories Cambodia" was set up in 2001 by the International Labor
Organization (ILO) and produces regular reports on which factories are complying
with labor standards.
The ILO announced an agreement to transfer responsibility for the monitoring program
to a governing body made up of government ministries, the Garment Manufacturers Association
of Cambodia and the two major union groups, the Cambodian Confederation of Trade
Unions (CCTU) and the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU).
Currently, the government, manufacturers and unions sit on an advisory board to the
ILO, which runs the Better Factories project.
"The success of this endeavor will rest on the goodwill of those involved,"
said Sally Paxton, the ILO's executive director of social dialogue, who made the
announcement at a major conference discussing the future of Cambodia's garment sector
on February 11.
The $600,000 - less than $3 per worker - needed to fund the inspection project will
also be transferred to the tripartite governing body by 2009, but the exact amount
each party will contribute has not yet been decided.
Representatives of government, manufacturers and the pro-government CCTU were all
positive about the hand over, but the pro-opposition union group voiced some questions
over the new arrangement.
"We are concerned about the joining of three parties because normally the manufacturer
is not loyal [to the workers and unions] and the government does not balance the
equality between the unions and the manufacturers," said Chhorn Sokha, vice
president of the CCAWDU.
However, the ILO's chief technical advisor to the project was confident the interests
of the governing body would not lead to any interference in monitoring.
"It's not really like that, there's never been any debate about the contents
of the reports," said Ros Harvey, adding that the reports were technical audits
and the governing body had little to do with the day-to-day running of the project.
The three-year transfer will be an "evolution" of the project, said Harvey,
one that would play an important part in Cambodia's push to establish a labor-friendly
niche in the now highly competitive garment sector.
Harvey said the monitoring would continue as before, with unannounced visits on every
factory to check more than 500 points of labor standards compliance.
The transfer of control of the project coincides with its computerization, which
Harvey said will increase efficiency and help produce more timely reports. In the
future, buyers might also pay for online access to detailed information about factory
working conditions, but only with the agreement of individual factories.
Buyers have praised the Better Factories Cambodia project and earlier this month
clothing giant Gap Inc appealed to the ILO to set up similar labor audits in other
garment producing nations.
"This is working really well in Cambodia, we would like to see this in other
countries," said Dan Henckle, vice president for global compliance at Gap Inc,
during the garment sector conference in Phnom Penh.
Having one credible and independent monitor could also cut down the number of interruptions
for factories, some of which are inspected up to 60 times a year by their various
buyers, retailers, government inspectors and the ILO.
"It's frustrating to the industry, a waste of money," said Harvey. "The
money used in auditing could be used in improving the conditions in the factories."