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Living wage a ‘human right’

Living wage a ‘human right’

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Panellists at the first “Permanent People’s Tribunal” on wages and conditions for Cambodian garment workers yesterday released their findings, declaring that a living wage for workers should be considered a “human right”.

The hearing included two days of testimony by workers, labour experts and brand-name buyers.

Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Gianni Tognoni speaks yesterday at the conclusion of the three-day Permanent People’s Tribunal.

While panellists did not specify what a living wage was, they called on the government to develop “standards and methods” for calculating one and found that the “minimum living wage should clearly identify food costs to be no more than 50 per cent of the overall wage package”.

A representative from the Asia Floor Wage Campaign, which organised the hearing, took it a step further, telling the Post that the monthly minimum wage for garment workers in Cambodia should be US$281.

That figure represents more than four times the current monthly minimum wage for garment workers of $66, which includes a $5 health bonus added last month.

AFW coordinator Anannya Bhattacharjee said the $281 calculation was based on a worker’s monthly nutritional needs according to figures obtained from governments and international institutions.

She added that such an increase would rely to some extent on clothing brands and retailers paying more for the finished product.

“There is enough money in the global supply chain for brands to pay Cambodian manufacturers enough so that garment workers can earn that,” she said.

Panel member Gianni Tognoni yesterday said that a wage is one way for workers to enjoy their basic human rights. “Wage is not simply part of a contract,” he said.

Tognini said that while there were legal principles in place to govern the sector, there was “vast evidence of impunity”.

“Everything is well known, everything is well legislated and nothing happens,” he said, citing an “absence of investigation” of mass fainting episodes in factories.

Another panel member, former professor Gill H Boehringer, said that buyers were “violating the norms of your country and international norms which are universally recognised”.

The panel concluded with recommendations for the government, trade unions and consumers.

“Consumers should support the global efforts of trade unions and other labour organisations and NGOs … to pressure Multinational Corporations and (‘Brands’) to adopt…the living wage in their supply chain,” the findings read.

It called multinational corporations to move “beyond good intentions” and commit to “a mandatory living wage at all levels and sectors of the supply chain”, and recommended that unions adopt the “living wage concept” as part of their bargaining strategy.

Dave Welsh, country director for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said that while the AFW’s $281 figure would be a “great wage”, it was “probably not realistic overnight”, adding that there was “definitely room for brands to negotiate”.

“It shouldn’t be on [the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia] necessarily,” he said. “It’s also really in the brands’ corner, where they’re benefiting hugely from being in Cambodia, not only financially, but also from a PR vantage point.”

While GMAC did not attend the tribunal, the group’s secretary-general, Ken Loo, told the Post last week that there were “numerous calculations” for determining a living wage.

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