An ILO project to monitor the working conditions in garment factories will now be co-sponsored by image-conscious clothing brands
ASHINGTON - Ten of the world's top clothing and shoe brands have pledged financial
support for the International Labor Organization's "Better Factories Cambodia"
effort, as officials reaffirmed their commitment to worker's rights.
Ros Harvey, the ILO's Phnom Penh-based chief technical adviser, made the announcement
on July 22 during a conference in Washington on promoting Cambodia's competitiveness
in a post-Multifiber Agreement world.
The event was sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Global
Fairness International and Oxfam America.
The companies who will start co-funding the factory monitoring project include the
Adidas-Solomon Group, The Children's Place Retail Stores, The Gap, Hennes & Mauritz
(H&M), Levi Strauss, Sears Holdings Corp. (Sears and Kmart), Nike, Reebok International,
Wal-Mart Stores, and Walt Disney Co.
The companies will provide financial support starting next year, Harvey said, telling
the Post that the companies will contribute $60,000, or one-fourth of total monitoring
costs, in the first year.
"This is an important development for Cambodia," Harvey said. "Major
brands are showing their practical support for the ILO's Better Factories Cambodia."
"We are looking forward to working with brands to improve working conditions
in Cambodian factories," she said.
Better Factories Cambodia monitors and reports on working conditions in Cambodian
garment factories according to national and international standards, helps factories
to improve working conditions and productivity, and works with the government and
international buyers to ensure improvement.
The program runs unannounced factory visits to check on working conditions, which
results in written reports of findings including suggestions for improvement. Issues
covered range from child labor to freedom of association, employee contracts, working
hours and machine safety. Monitors return to check on progress. Findings from the
monitoring are released to the public through reports. Factories are named and progress
on implementation is identified in reports made public after follow-up visits.
ILO officials "encourage and expect" that other buyers will become involved
with the program, Harvey told the conference, saying that funding from Cambodia's
brands is part of a broader strategy under which financial contributions from the
Cambodian government, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia and the brands
will increase over a three-year period so that a "sustainable Cambodian organization"
can take over the project in 2009.
Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh also addressed the conference, stressing
that Cambodia has accepted the linkage between trade benefits and labor standards
- proposed by the United States during the administration of former President Bill
Clinton - because it is in Cambodia's interests.
Prasidh told the audience the linkage was the "most efficient internal mechanism
for developing countries, and especially a least developed country like Cambodia,
to secure that foreign investors are not exploiting or abusing our local workers,
who are mostly female workers coming from remote impoverished areas, eager to get
a job, but have a low level of education."
He acknowledged that accepting the linkage would involve Americans in Cambodian affairs,
but said it would provide workers and the manufacturers collective bargaining power.
"Why should we be afraid of having the AFL-CIO in Cambodia when we do have already
2,000 NGOs in Cambodia?" Prasidh asked.
In addition to the worldwide anti-sweatshop movement, he said, Cambodia has relied
on buyers, who come with their own codes of conduct, meaning that Cambodia operates
under a "double guarantee" that workers' rights will be protected.
Cambodia does not just link trade and labor standards with the United States, but
does so with other trading partners, such as the European Union, Prasidh said.
He admitted, however, that the industry wasn't flawless.
"We are not trying to have a model like Miss Universe, which is beautiful, perfect,"
he said, "but just Miss Congeniality."
Much of the first day of the conference was devoted to a discussion of the proposed
US Tariff Relief Assistance for Developing Economies Act, also called the "TRADE
Act." Separate versions of the bill are pending in the US Senate and House of
The proposed act could allow textile and apparel articles to enter the United States
duty-free from certain countries. Cambodia is specifically named as one of the 14
countries covered, as are such other countries as Afghanistan, Bhutan, Laos, East
Timor, Vanuatu and Yemen.
Prospects for the bill, however, are "far from certain," said Jim Kolbe,
a Republican from Arizona and sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives.
The bill has been referred to committees in the House and the Senate, but hearings
- the first step in the congressional consideration process - have not been held.