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Iffy factory supplying LA’s finest

Iffy factory supplying LA’s finest

A Phnom Penh-based factory supplying uniforms for police officers and firefighters in the US city of Los Angeles continues to break Cambodian labour laws, a report to be publicly released today says.

Kin Tai Garment factory, a supplier to 5.11 Tactical – which sells the uniforms to the Los Angeles municipality – has made little to no effort to address myriad violations the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) brought to the attention of the factory during an eight-month inquiry, the report says.

The report from the inquiry, which ended in November, singled out three main areas of noncompliance: labour contracts, benefits and health and safety issues.

“Regrettably, aside from ending its practice of illegally denying maternity leave benefits to female workers and reducing the number of workers that the factory employs unlawfully under casual labor arrangements, Kin Tai’s management has not followed any of [our] recommendations.”

City officials commissioned the WRC audit of the Taiwanese-owned Meanchey district factory in keeping with LA’s “Sweat-Free Procurement Ordinance”, the report says.

The ordinance requires facilities that produce clothing and other goods supplying the public sector to adhere to a specific set of labour standards.

A Kin Tai official listed on the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) website as the factory’s contact person did not answer phone calls or an email yesterday.

Despite a section in Cambodia’s Labour Law barring employers from signing employees who have served two years or more to short-term contracts, about 60 per cent of its work force during the time of the study were employed this way, the report says.

Less than 3 per cent of Kin Tai’s roughly 800 employees worked on unlimited-term contracts during the time of the WRC investigation.

Since the investigation, the number of employees on illegal contracts has dropped by half, employees reported to WRC researchers.

“It’s a sad reflection on the garment industry in general that it really takes public censure to make any difference whatsoever,” said Dave Welsh, country manager for labour rights group Solidarity Center.

Management continues to fail at meeting the legal minimum for seniority bonuses, despite a 2010 decision by the Arbitration Council they pay appropriate bonuses plus back-pay and a finding the next year by the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program saying they were not in compliance for the past four inspections, the report says.

“Employees who currently are entitled to such bonuses will not start to receive them until May . . . Even then, [they] will be paid less than the legally required amounts,” the report says.

Employees at Kin Tai toil in extreme heat. During a site visit, inspectors recorded temperatures as high as 38 degrees Celsius, the report says.

Employees told WRC staff temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius four days before the tour.

Despite a 2010 decision from the Arbitration Council that the factory must install sprinklers on its roof as a cooling measure, none yet exist at Kin Tai, the report said.

The most recent violation that sticks out to Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, is Kin Tai’s firing of union officials who participated in an early-December to late-January strike, he said. Management later agreed to hire the two officials back.

“I think Kin Tai is under a watch list,” said Tola, who believes the factory is gaining notoriety. “If Kin Tai doesn’t show any real commitment to fix the issues, I think that would affect their business reputation.”

Neither Kevin James, of LA’s Board of Public Works Commissioners, nor officials from 5.11 Tactical, which is supplied by Kin Tai, replied to emails.

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo could not be reached.

The fact that the city went to WRC for the review indicates their seriousness in helping end unethical labour practices, Welsh said. “Left to their own devices, the factories will never change, and GMAC will never force them.”

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