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Government to extend labour compliance program

Employees manufacture items of apparel last year at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.
Employees manufacture items of apparel last year at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. Kimberley McCosker

Government to extend labour compliance program

The Cambodian government and Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) will extend the 15-year-old labour compliance program to 2019, with industry experts saying it was time for the government to increase its own monitoring of the sector.

Speaking at the 15th anniversary of the BFC, Labour Minister Ith Samheng said the ministry had attempted to reform its own inspection mechanisms and that 46 provincial and national teams had been created for the job, but more needed to be done.

“The inspection system has worked in synergy with the inspection system of the BFC. But we have to strengthen the capacity of our inspectors and strengthen enforcement of the Labour Law,” Samheng said.

While the BFC program reports non-compliance in 577 garment-exporting factories across the country, enforcement of regulations is left up to government labour inspectors. Samheng said that the ministry had conducted about 6,000 inspections this year and fined 56 enterprises for labour violations, without giving further details.

Cambodia’s garment sector has long been plagued with sub-standard working conditions, including frequent worker faintings, use of short-term contracts and occupational safety hazards. However, a July report from BFC showed 47 percent compliance among 381 assessed factories in 2015, up from 28 percent two years prior.

Maurizio Bussi, director for the ILO’s Bangkok office, said the International Labour Organization was providing the government with a plan to incrementally reduce reliance on the BFC’s monitoring activities.

“You have to have sustainability and a transition plan. Otherwise the model will remain confined,” Bussi said. On the frequent criticism that the BFC only monitored exporting factories and not subcontractors, where conditions are often said to be worse, Bussi said it was outside the labour group’s mandate, but an increase in government inspections would likely catch non-compliance across a larger swathe of the garment sector.

However, William Conklin, country director at labour advocacy NGO Solidarity Center, questioned why the organisation was only now turning its attention to bolstering the government’s enforcement mechanisms. Ideally, he said, the BFC would have worked over the duration of its program to improve the ministry’s inspection systems, so a robust mechanism would already be in place.

He added that in the past 15 years, the garment industry has used the BFC program as a “badge” behind which it hid its lack of structural changes in working conditions and worker productivity. “You can’t blame the BFC, but the industry hasn’t changed much and that still remains a problem,” he said.

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