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Labour Ministry downplays Walmart's concerns over working conditions, politics

Walmart executive Scott Price (left) meets Labour Minister Ith Samheng during a visit to Cambodia in November.
Walmart executive Scott Price (left) meets Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng during a visit to Cambodia in November. Facebook

Labour Ministry downplays Walmart's concerns over working conditions, politics

Cambodia's Ministry of Labour today downplayed concerns expressed by American retail giant Walmart, which had written the minister a letter asking the government to improve working conditions in the country and to treat the US government and NGOs with “fairness”.

The letter was sent by Scott Price, executive vice president for Walmart, to Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng on December 6, and was received and posted to Facebook by Sam Heng on Tuesday. In the letter, Price reiterates the retailer’s commitment to sourcing from Cambodia but says their consumers expect high standards of “social and labour conditions” in countries they source from.

“[We] respectfully ask that your government continue to improve working conditions for Cambodian factory workers and treat our government and civil society with fairness, in accordance with international standards and norms,” the letter reads.

Cambodia has been at the receiving end of near-universal condemnation as a result of the government’s sustained clampdown on civil society organisations, independent media outlets and the country's only viable opposition party, which was summarily dissolved by the Supreme Court last month. The United States found itself the target of a barrage of criticism amid the crackdown, with numerous government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, accusing it of conspiring with the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party to overthrow the government.

In response to the dissolution, the US imposed visa restrictions on top ruling party officials and withdrew funding from Cambodia's National Election Committee. The European Union also withdrew its funding from the NEC, and its parliament has asked the European Commission to consider temporarily suspending Cambodia's preferential trade status with the bloc.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour, however, maintained that Walmart's letter was entirely positive because of its use of the word “continue”, which he argued meant that the Cambodian government was already fulfilling the requirements outlined.

“I don’t think this is the criticism of the government. When you say ‘continue to improve’, it recognises the improvement,” Sour said. “The relationship between the US and Cambodia is normal, and cooperation with civil society and unions from US is still going smoothly.”

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