H&M and Gap criticised for not agreeing to attend hearing next week investigating pay, working hours and ‘mass faintings’
Published on guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 February 2012 18.44 GMT, Sarah Butler
Workers in Cambodia will hold a “people’s tribunal” next week to investigate pay and conditions at factories working for fashion brands including H&M and Gap.
An international panel of judges will hear evidence from workers, factories and multinational brands including Puma and Adidas. H&M said it would not attend but would supply information about how it was addressing wages at its suppliers’ factories in the country.
The two-day hearing aims to raise awareness of low pay and long working hours that workers say are partly responsible for a series of “mass faintings” involving hundreds of workers at factories supplying H&M, Gap and sports brands.
Up to 300 workers will give evidence about the fainting incidents and about living conditions resulting from low wages.
The minimum wage in Cambodia is the equivalent of just $66 (£42) a month, a level that human rights groups say is almost half that required to meet basic needs.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Coalition for Apparel Workers Democratic Unions, said: “Because the workers get low wages they try to work 10 to 13 hours a day to get the money they need for their family.”
He said workers needed a basic wage equivalent to at least $100 (£63) a month to get by without putting their health in danger. “Workers are fainting because of long working hours and the environment in the factory,” he said.
Fumes from chemicals, poor ventilation, malnutrition and even “mass hysteria” have all been blamed for making workers ill.
A report by the International Labour Organisation said at least 11 garment factories experienced fainting incidents and more than 1,500 workers fainted or collapsed during working hours last year.
In August, nearly 300 workers passed out in one week at a Cambodian factory supplying H&M, prompting an investigation by the Swedish retailer. More than 100 people were reported to have been taken to hospital after the incidents at M&V International Manufacturing in Kampong Chhnang.
A report commissioned by H&M blamed the faintings on mass hysteria caused by work-related and personal stress.
About 100 workers fainted at the Huey Chen factory, which supplies Puma, in April last year and another 49 passed out at the same factory in July. Puma said it had implemented an improvement plan at the factory and commissioned a report into the reason for the faintings. It said it was working with the factory and local authorities to “take every precaution that compliance with our social and labour standards is ensured”.
Jeroen Merk, of the workers’ rights pressure group Clean Clothes Campaign, said it was “disappointing” that H&M and Gap had chosen not to attend the tribunal.
A spokeswoman for H&M said: “Workers should earn a fair wage and we strive for decent supply chain working conditions. To tackle this challenge we last year joined the Fair Wage Network to find out more about how we can contribute to more fair wages.”
Adidas said its factory workers earned nearly twice as much as police officers or teachers in the same region and considerably more than the minimum wage. A spokesman said: “Workplace conditions at our major suppliers have been the subject of independent verification and certification and we constantly question and improve our performance.”
The Clean Clothes Campaign and the British campaign group Labour Behind the Label supported local members of Asia Floor Wage, a coalition campaigning for higher minimum wages across the continent, in setting up the tribunal. They said the event was an attempt to raise awareness in a less confrontational way than strikes.
The move comes after 1,000 union leaders were dismissed after strikes for better pay and conditions involving 200,000 workers last year.
Clothing and footwear is a vital part of Cambodia’s economy, employing more than 300,000 people, mostly women. Last year exports of garments and footwear rose by 25% from to $4.24 bn (£2.68bn), making up 85% of total exports.
31 January 2012
On 5 and 6 February 2012, to call for the installment of a living wage, the Asian Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and the Asia Floor Wage-Cambodia (AFW-C)i an alliance of over nine unions and NGOs in Cambodia are holding Cambodia’s first ever People’s Tribunal on Minimum Living Wage and Decent Working Conditions for garment workers. The Tribunal will take place at the Cambodian-Japan Cooperation Center in Phnom Penh. Five judges and key expert witnesses will help shape the debate. The Tribunal findings will be announced during a press conference held at Basac Restaurant, 10:00AM – 11:30AM, 8 February 2012.
The garment industry in Cambodia represents 90% of all exports. However, despite its relative economic importance, workers receive only half of what is needed to safely support their families and the statutory minimum wage is currently the lowest in the Mekong region.
The Tribunal will hear the testimonies of garment workers, experts and key stakeholders and hopes to address the issue of ongoing poverty facing the thousands of Cambodian workers employed in the industry. “Despite experiencing sustained growth in the sector, Cambodia’s minimum wage allowance is only $66 dollars including a month including health allowance and amounts to only half of that required to adequately meet the average worker’s basic needs.” said Tola Moeun, Head of Labor Program of the Community Legal Education Center.
Over 200,000 workers in Cambodia went on strike recently in protest of the pervasive existence of low wages and poor working conditions in the garment sector. “Their low wages are particularly unjust when considered in contrast to the market price of the products they create. Furthermore, they are leading to the malnutrition to be a common ailment experienced by workers. This in turn is negatively affecting their long term health as well as their productivity. Both Better Factories Cambodia and government representatives have attributed low wages as one of the primary causes to phenomenon of mass fainting, which last year alone claimed over 1000 causalities.” said Mr. Ath Thorn, President of Cambodian Labor Confederation(CLC).
The People’s Tribunal in Cambodia is the second of its kind to be held in Asia, the first being held in Sri Lanka earlier this year. “These Tribunals provide ordinary workers a space to express their collective concerns and communicate their demands” said Dr. Vong Sovann, the President of Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions.
Representatives from international retailers have been invited including Adidas, Puma, GAP, and H&M. “Wages make up only a small fraction of the final retail price of garments – the cooperation of big brands is a crucial factor to unlocking improvements for workers.” said Ms. Anannya Bhattacharjee, International Coordinator for Asia Floor Wage Alliance.
– Mr. Ath Thorn, the president of Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC), +855-12-998 906 (English/Khmer)
– Dr. Vong Sovann, president of Cambodia Confederation of Trade Unions (CCTU), +855-12 785 890 (English/Khmer)
– Ms. Anannya Bhattacharjee, coordinator for Asia Floor Wage Alliance, (+91-9810970627 (English)
– Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/afwcam
Download this as PDF here: Press Statement for People Tribunal