The Ministry of Labour says it will investigate the claims of a Royal Holloway, University of London research team’s report alleging modern slavery in Cambodia’s brick kilns, said Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng.
The report entitled Blood Bricks: Untold Stories of Modern Slavery and Climate Change in Cambodia claimed that poor Cambodians working as brick makers were trapped in debt bondage and had fallen into modern slavery.
This, it said was because the demand of brick makers is skyrocketing as the kingdom’s construction sector is booming with foreign investments.
In Phnom Penh on Thursday, Minister Ith Sam Heng said during a workshop entitled Decent Work Programme for Cambodia 2019-2023 that the ministry will start investigating the circumstances and locations mentioned in the report.
“We will start investigating. The ministry issued a statement preventing [this issue of child labour]. We will review what the report says."
“In the past, we didn’t know about it. After knowing about it, we will inspect the locations mentioned in the report. If it is true, we will take the necessary legal action to put a stop to it,” he said.
The report said brick kilns employed all types of workers, including children, due to rapid development in hotels, office buildings, factories, condominiums, and other projects in urgent need of bricks.
Most of them, it claimed, were trapped in debt bondage.
Chheang Suyheang, the president of two brick kiln associations representing more than 100 factories in Kandal province, denied the existence of child labour in brick factories.
“There is no impact on them. Their hands and feet do not fall into the machines or [get] cut off like before because there is no child labour in the brick [industry] and we do not allow minors to work because the organisation has strengthened,” he said.
Suyheang acknowledged that every “brick family” has borrowed money from the kiln owners. This is because they can quickly pay off their bank and microfinance loans.
Last week, the ministry issued a statement warning it will mete out fines and take other legal action against brick kilns which use child labour or commit other violations.
Adhoc spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna said the ministry should have started investigating a long time ago, following civil society organisation reports of child and other worker injuries.
“It seems like the Ministry of Labour just woke up from sleep. It is a shame. The government or ministry should have taken care of this long ago, so a lot of people would not have been victimised,” he said.
He added that the ministry’s investigation should be believable and transparent. The government should have clear strategies to prevent other issues cropping up in the brick industry.