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Garment factory oversight to change hands

Garment factory oversight to change hands

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."

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