Workers protest outside the Kingsland Garment (Cambodia) Ltd factory yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Pha Lina /Phnom Penh Post
Bosses of an underwear factory that supplies retail giants Walmart and H&M have been accused of closing up shop and fleeing while still owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and benefits.
Workers at the Kingsland garment factory in the capital’s Meanchey district have spent the past 10 days protesting outside the factory and setting up camp at night – to catch their bosses if they return to strip the factory of machinery.
Representatives claimed yesterday workers would be owed a combined $800,000 if the factory, which has not opened since December 29, had ceased operations.
The factory has been bereft of an independent union since representatives from what is now the Cambodia Confederation of Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (C.CAWDU) were fired or beaten in incidents in 2007 and 2008, they added.
Worker Phoung Phearum, who was one of about 50 protesting at the factory on National Road 2 yesterday, said about 30 workers had spent 10 nights sleeping outside.
“We’re staying here every day,” he said.
Workers’ representative Oun Bouy said the only union allowed in Kingsland since 2008 had been run by the wife of a manager and represented about 20 of the 700 workers.
“We want to appeal to the government to help us. We do not have money to pay for our rent, food and families.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Centre, said more than 100 workers had officially complained about the apparent closure.
“They have been struggling for a couple of weeks. Some have got temporary jobs. We expect to have more workers’ thumbprints, though,” he said.
Nick Rudikoff, global affairs co-ordinator for labour organisation Warehouse Workers United, said Walmart needed to share responsibility for what was happening at Kingsland.
“The factory owner is clearly not doing the right thing, but that’s just one part of the story,” he said. “[Walmart has] the responsibility to make sure the people who make their clothes are treated fairly.”
Kingsland’s management and its owners in Hong Kong could not be reached, while Walmart and H&M did not immediately respond to emailed questions.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Mom Kunthear at [email protected]
Shane Worrell at shane.worr[email protected]