Lawsuit against labour union president (re inciting social unrest, Cambodia)
Snapshot: In April 2020, Superl Holdings filed criminal charges against Cambodian local union president Soy Sros, alleging she incited social unrest by alerting the public on Facebook to Superl’s plan to dismiss workers at its factory in Phnom Penh in defiance of government-issued COVID-19 guidance to factory owners. Sros was detained from 3 April to 28 May 2020. On 3 June 2020, following extensive media coverage of the case, Superl Holdings agreed to drop the criminal charges.
Due to falling product demand as a result of Covid-19, a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh owned by Superl Holdings dismissed 88 workers. The Hong Kong-based company makes luxury handbags for Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade, Coach and Versace. The dismissals were contrary to government-issued guidance which advised factory owners to send workers home with reduced pay rather than fire them.
All 88 dismissed workers are members of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW). On 31 March 2020, Soy Sros, president of the CUMW local union at Superl Cambodia, tried to meet with the human resources manager about the job losses. When the meeting proved unsuccessful, Sros alerted the public to the firings by posting on Facebook. In her post, she pointed out that the company had defied the government’s recommendations as well as the appeal from the Ministry of Labour. Further, she voiced her intent to ask the factory to retain workers by temporarily suspending them rather than ending their contracts.
In response to her actions, Superl announced it would not fire the workers and instead would only suspend them for one month. A Superl representative demanded Sros retract her Facebook post and sign a document admitting she made a mistake. Sros agreed to delete the post, but refused to admit any wrongdoing.
On 2 April 2020, she was arrested by police officials and charged with posting fake information on social media. She was interrogated by the police for 48 hours before being sent to the Kampong Speu provincial prison. She spent 55 days in pre-trial detention before being released on bail.
Superl Holdings filed criminal charges against Sros, claiming that she had incited social unrest, defamed the factory and spread ‘fake news’. Additionally, the Cambodian courts charged her with two criminal charges for provocation.
From 3 April to 28 May 2020, Sros was detained on the grounds of Penal Codes 496 (provocation to commit discrimination) and 494 (existence of provocation). Notably, the grounds for her initial arrest are different from the grounds for her detention – Sros was not charged with violating the “fake news” directive which was the basis for her arrest.
28 May 2020, Sros was released on bail and charged with Penal Code 496 (provocation to discriminate). If convicted, she faces one to three years in prison and fines of up to 6 million riel (USD$1,500).
On 3 June 2020, media coverage and campaigning by Sros’ union – backed by groups including the Clean Clothes Campaign and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) – resulted in Superl Holdings agreeing to drop criminal charges.
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On 13 June 2020, Sros signed an agreement with Superl’s general manager, Chan Dao Zen stating that:
- Superl’s charges against Soy Sros will be withdrawn
- She will be reinstated in her position
- Soy Sros will receive full back pay for time she spent in custody
- Superl guarantees there will be no retaliation or discrimination against her
- The parties will work together to improve working conditions in the factory.
Although Sros has since returned to work, the criminal charges filed by the government currently still stand.
- Disaster Looms as the Coronavirus Disrupts the Garment Supply Chain, The Nation, 7 July 2020
- When a Unionist Took Her Grievances Online, Police Came Knocking, VOD English, 19 June 2020
- Jailed for a Facebook post: garment workers' rights at risk during Covid-19, The Guardian, 16 June 2020
- Meet the Badass You’ve Never Heard of: Ms. Soy Sros, What’s on Phnom Penh, 15 June 2020
- Worker who makes luxury bags jailed for posting about coronavirus, New York Post, 12 June 2020
- A Woman Who Makes Bags For Michael Kors Was Sent To One Of The Most Crowded Prisons In The World For A Facebook Post, BuzzFeed News, 11 June 2020
- Union Garment Workers Fear ‘an Opportunity to Get Rid of Us’, The New York Times, 8 May 2020
Documents from NGOs
- Trade union leader spends 55 days in jail for Facebook post, brands do nothing, Clean Clothes Campaign, 23 June 2020
- Cambodian unionist released from jail, IndustriALL, 29 May 2020
- Help Free Cambodian Garment Maker Jailed by Michael Kors Supplier, Remake, 27 May 2020
- Response from Superl Holdings, 31 May 2020