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Swedish outcry has royal voice in midst

Swedish outcry has royal voice in midst

Growing calls in Sweden for multinational clothing giant H&M to increase wages for Cambodian garment workers have taken a royal twist.

Cambodia’s Prince Charin Norodom, 38, who has lived in Sweden for more than 30 years, told the Post yesterday that he had been working behind the scenes in the Scandinavian country – the home of H&M – to push for better pay in Cambodian garment factories.

“We want a living wage for these workers,” he said. “We want H&M to press the factories they buy from on this issue.”

The issue of a living wage, which labour rights coalition Asia Floor Wage Alliance says equates to $281 per month for Cambodian workers, has dominated headlines in Sweden in the past week, the prince said.

The catalyst for the outrage was the airing of a documentary on Swedish network TV4, called Kalla Fakta, or Cold Facts, that focused on the garment industry’s minimum wage of $61 per month before bonuses.

“People in Sweden are concerned about this. They’re concerned about the quality of [the conditions behind] what they buy,” the prince said.

Charin said he had provided input into meetings about conditions in factories H&M sources from and requested a sit-down with the company’s management – which had been denied.

“I haven’t spoken to them. I’ve tried to speak to them, but they haven’t responded. I want them to solve the problem,” he said, adding that activists in Sweden were planning public demonstrations.

The Cambodian government, Charin said, also needs to play its part in securing wage increases for workers.

H&M has defended the treatment of workers in factories from which it sources, including M&V, in Kampong Chhnang province, where hundreds fainted in August last year.

Karl-Johan Persson, chief executive officer of the company, said H&M has been unfairly targeted and is actually at the forefront of trying to improve working conditions in countries from which it sourced.

“In Cambodia, there are union discussions and functioning collective agreements,” he said in a press conference last week.

“It can get better for sure. Therefore we work with Better Factories [Cambodia] to create a better social dialogue on the labour market.”

Cambodia, he added, is better off with H&M’s presence and workers will be even poorer if  the company bought from elsewhere.

Labour advocate group The Clean Clothes Campaign has called on H&M to ensure workers are paid $131 per month, a figure endorsed by independent trade unions, as a first step towards paying a living wage.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at [email protected]

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