Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - H&M's suppliers guilty of labour rights abuses, report alleges

H&M's suppliers guilty of labour rights abuses, report alleges

Garment workers producing clothing for H&M hold a banner during a protest in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in 2014.
Garment workers producing clothing for H&M hold a banner during a protest in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in 2014. Vireak Mai

H&M's suppliers guilty of labour rights abuses, report alleges

A new report has alleged labour rights abuses at Cambodian supplier factories for apparel giant H&M, as more than 500 garment workers gathered in Phnom Penh yesterday to air some of the same concerns over working conditions during a workers’ forum.

An independent investigation by Asia Floor Wage Alliance, which interviewed 201 workers at 12 H&M supplier companies in Phnom Penh and the surrounding areas, found that a large number of workers at nine of the factories were improperly employed on fixed-duration contracts, while many were forced to work long overtime hours and threatened with termination if they became pregnant.

“Out of 42 workers employed on fixed duration contracts, 28 did not receive social security, maternity or seniority benefits,” the report found.

Short-term contracts make it easier for employers to terminate workers with no severance package, and limit workers’ ability to participate in unions, said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union. From 1994 to 2004, short-term contracts represented only 10 per cent of contracts in the industry, Thorn added, but have since skyrocketed.

Thorn said the government should take action against employers and threaten to shut down their business if no improvements are seen, but was doubtful the government would step in to address the issues. “Now, the government is a little bit slow, especially when it comes to punishing the employers,” he said.

“Employers want to cheat the workers,” Thorn added, noting that it’s still common for companies to terminate a worker’s contract if the worker becomes pregnant.

H&M didn’t respond to a request for comment as of press time, but a company representative told Reuters that it was collaborating with trade unions, governments and the UN to improve working conditions.

Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, said that H&M has said that it’s committed to paying workers a living wage, but the commitment was just “propaganda”.

Many workers are forced to work overtime in order to survive, he added.

“Otherwise, your income won’t be adequate,” Tola said, adding that if workers say no to overtime once or twice, they are blacklisted. “We don’t see any progress from the government, except from the health insurance scheme,” he said.

The preponderance of short-term contracts was also the most commonly held grievance at a workers’ forum yesterday organised by the Workers’ Information Center, which was attended by about 500 workers.

“The employer would like to do short-term contracts because it is easy to fire the workers if they join any union activity,” said Mak Chan Sitha, a coordinator for the Workers’ Information Center. “This is still our concern for workers, that their work is not stable. They are afraid that they will lose their job any day.”

Garment worker Chan Tona yesterday corroborated Chan Sitha’s characterisation of the situation, saying that she was only offered three-month contracts, “but if I join any union’s activities, I will face firing”.

A Ministry of Labour spokesman could not be reached yesterday, but government spokesman Phay Siphan said the government just acts as a mediator between the employers and the employees, and added that improvements have been seen in the garment industry.

“Employees understand their rights,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Hun Sen: Manet to be candidate for prime minister

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that his oldest son Hun Manet will be his successor as Prime Minister if he is elected. Speaking during the inauguration of a new sewage treatment facility in Preah Sihanouk province on December 2, Hun Sen said Manet will be

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied