The leaders of some of the Kingdom’s unions have threatened to expand minor protests into large-scale demonstrations in protest over a June 4 report by the NGO Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), which alleged restrictions on freedom of association in garment, footwear and travel accessories factories across Cambodia.

One union described such allegations as hurting the sector. They requested that CENTRAL revise its report, warning that if this is not done they will hold large rallies and may even ask the Ministry of Interior to shut down the NGOs office.

The June 4 report, made in tandem with The Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) and the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (C.CAWDU), evaluates the Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) programme, run by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Cambodian government, to focus on improving working conditions for factory employees.

According to the report, the BFC works with 703 factories across the kingdom which employ approximately 651,000 workers. 

CENTRAL’s report explained that their team has conducted numerous interviews with union leaders and union representatives from 14 of the factories registered with the BFC for more than a year to assess the ability of its members and to understand BFC public data, as well as to assess the accuracy of the freedom of association compliance reports which are available to the public.

It said union representatives from 10 of the 14 workplaces reported that they encountered obstacles to freedom of association, including intimidation, threats, harassment, blacklisting and many other restrictions, all of which fail to comply with the standards of the factories’ buyers.

They also offered 11 recommendations for the BFC to implement, in order to improve the working conditions and compliance of all brands and buyers, as well as the international and domestic laws.

The report was seen differently by some unions, which claimed that it did not reflect the facts and had no basis in reality. They suggested that the report insulted the Kingdom’s national honour, while disrupting job stability and the common interests of Cambodian workers as a whole.

Ly Vichet, president of the Cambodia Confederation of Worker Fortunate, noted on June 19 that the report failed to highlight the many achievements and progress made in the working conditions of workers and unions in Cambodia.

“As workers' representatives, we are very concerned about its impact on job stability and the benefits of workers. We urge the director of CENTRAL to revise the report and include the great achievements that have been made and the progress of working conditions and unions in Cambodia,” he said, in a statement directed at CENTRAL director Moeun Tola.

Vichet warned that he intended to write letters to CENTRAL’s donors, as well as the interior ministry, asking them to ensure that the NGO is compliant with its own statutes, as well as the laws of Cambodia.

“And finally, if we are forced to, we will gather workers to hold large-scale protests in front of CENTRAL’s office and the interior ministry to request that the office is permanently closed,” he said.

Some unions organised a small protest in front of the NGO’s office on June 17. They resumed their demonstrations today, while urging CENTRAL to amend their report.

Moeun Tola could not be reached for comment.