Cambodia: Leading brands suggest labour reforms to the govt. after meeting on labour rights issues

Image via World Bank Photo Collection on Flickr, licensed under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Representatives of leading apparel & footwear brands, led by the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA), meet with the govt. to express concerns about labour and worker rights in Cambodia. They meet with senior Cambodian government officials to discuss the current state of worker rights, and opportunities for enhanced collaboration in upholding worker rights throughout the Cambodian garment, footwear, and travel goods sector. FLA and AAFA have sent follow-up letters to the govt. to suggest specific labour reforms.

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Article
2 November 2018

Cambodia: Leading apparel & footwear brands meet with govt. to express concerns about labour rights

Author: Fair Labor Association (USA)

"Leading apparel and footwear brands meet with government to express concerns about worker rights", Oct 23, 2018

Representatives from major apparel and footwear brands, including adidas, New Balance, Nike, Puma, Under Armour, and VF Corporation...met with senior Cambodian government officials to discuss the current state of worker rights...throughout the Cambodian garment, footwear, and travel goods sector. The sector employs more than 700,000 Cambodians – most of whom are women – making it one of the largest sources of employment in the country. "Cambodia has been a good partner to our brands through the years,” said Rick Helfenbein, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association... “[t]hat said, we are increasingly concerned about specific policies and actions the government has taken in the past year."

The [representatives] called on the government to drop criminal charges in the cases of several labor leaders, charges that have been pending for years and are widely viewed as politically-motivated. They also urged amendments of the 2016 Law on Trade Unions (TUL) and implementing regulations that limit the ability of Cambodian workers to form and engage freely in trade unions. The protection of fundamental human rights will be critical if Cambodia is to maintain and enhance the confidence of international brands sourcing in Cambodia.  

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Article
7 November 2018

PM Hun Sen creates task force to address civil society concerns

Author: Vicheika Kann, Voice of America

7 November 2018

Prime Minister Hun Sen has created a task force to deal with complaints from civil society groups over government suppression of their activities.

The premier made the announcement …, assigning eight officials to the group, which will be led by Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

“Gather information; study the requests and proposal and share ideas with government, ministries and relevant stakeholders to resolve it. Promote and raise civil society’s awareness and relevant stakeholders [awareness] about associations and NGOs law and regulations,” he wrote…

Civil society representatives said the decision to create the task force was likely made in response to international pressure.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with Licadho, a local rights group, said the plan would only be effective if proposals from civil society were taken seriously and acted on.

“What’s important is their true willingness in the culture of blame. And we want more freedom for civil society to do their job.”…

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Article
8 November 2018

PM urges ministers to end all cases against union leaders

Author: Chheng Niem, The Phnom Penh Post

8 November 2018

Prime Minister Hun Sen urged labour and justice ministers … to finish all court cases against union leaders.…, he told the Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng and Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana to expedite ongoing court cases and to ignore complaints brought against union leaders.

“If you need to try the cases, do it quickly. Otherwise, just ignore or drop them. Don’t make union leaders feel they are hostages to court cases,” he said… He called on employers to ensure freedom for workers and urged workers to refrain from committing criminal offences while exercising their freedom.

“I heard that Moeun Tola had a case in court. When the charge against him was dropped, they welcomed it. So I thought about this. I heard Ath Thon and Yang Sophorn are also facing lawsuits."…

Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), which counts 48 factories as its members, said he had seven unresolved complaints at the provincial and municipal courts…

Ath Thon, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) which represents about 80,000 workers and faces seven complaints at court, welcomed the news.

“I’m happy. We have requested an end of court cases for a long time. I think the government may have just realised that what they had done in the past was a restriction of freedom,” he said…

Yang Sophorn, the president of the Cambodia Alliance of Trade Union (CATU) who also has eight lawsuits pending trial, held high hopes that Hun Sen’s appeal would translate into practice.

“I want [Hun Sen’s] order to take effect. He should not just give an order and no one implements it. If all cases are solved, I’d be really happy."…

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Article
9 November 2018

Cambodia's Hun Sen eases pressure on unions, as EU sanctions threat looms

Author: Chanthol Prak, Channel News Asia

7 November 2018

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told his ministers to ease pressure on labour union leaders …, after threats by the European Union to remove the Southeast Asian country's duty-free trading access…, Hun Sen urged his ministries of justice and labour to speed up or drop any pending court cases against union leaders. "Cases that should be handled, handle them quickly. Cases that are not being handled, drop them, finish them, so that those union leaders don't feel like hostages," Hun Sen said.

"This will open up some freedom space for the unions," he said. "Let's make reconciliation and understanding of each other a priority."…

Representatives from major apparel and footwear companies, including Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Puma, Under Armour, and VF Corporation, met Cambodian government ministers... The companies urged the government to drop what are widely seen as politically motivated criminal charges against trade unionists.

"The prime minister has made a step towards honouring human rights obligations under the EBA agreement with the EU while wooing workers' support for his rule," said political analyst Lao Mong Hay said…

Ath Thon, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, who has 7 pending lawsuits against him and another 50 against his colleagues over labour strikes, said he welcomed Hun Sen's comments.

…"It could be that, firstly, the election is over and the situation is better so they want to solve problems and, secondly, that they want to respond to what development partners want."

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Article
9 November 2018

Labour Ministry receives counsel on labour rights

Author: Chheng Niem, The Phnom Penh Post

9 November 2018

Two US-based organisations sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training …, following a meeting with it in October to discuss the rights of workers in the Kingdom’s garment and footwear sector, among others.

Fair Labor Association (FLA) and American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) wrote a joint follow-up letter to the minister, Ith Sam Heng, recommending that the government improve workers’ rights.

“At the centre of these recommendations is our view that workers need the freedom to represent and speak for themselves without fear of retaliation or retribution. We hope that this core value will inform whatever reform your government is taking to go forward,” the letter said.

The organisations expressed “particular concerns” over the criminal charges against several union leaders, saying they “undermined the role and reduced the independence of the Arbitration Council …”.

“We urge [the Cambodian] government to guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and provide full protection of all human rights defenders in your country…

Moreover, the groups recommended the government to amend some parts in the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (Lango) by “removing onerous and intrusive reporting requirements”…

Cambodia Alliance of Trade Union (Catu) president Yan Saphorn said: “I support the recommendations. We work for workers’ rights. We want appreciation, not lawsuits.”

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Article
29 November 2018

Cambodia: Ministry of Interior lifts an advance notification requirement for civil society before organising its events

Author: Dara Voun, The Phonh Penh Post

"NGOs may operate without restriction", 28 November 2018

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng … instructed municipal and provincial authorities to facilitate the activities of civil society organisations and local communities without restriction and prior notice as previously required.

“NGOs and associations, including local communities that have already registered with the ministry, have complete freedom to legally carry out activities without having to inform local authorities three days beforehand as they did before,” Sar Kheng said in a directive...

Soeung Sen Karuna, the senior investigating officer for rights group Adhoc, welcomed the directive.

“There have been [negative] reactions from NGOs in various fields including human rights, advocacy and election observation to authorities’ restriction on their activities."…

“Over the past years, any action against civil society organisations had been broadcast by pro-government media, so we want them to also publicise the directive to help relevant authorities understand [our rights],” he said.

Theng Savoeun, the director of the NGO Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), echoed Karuna’s concerns.

“We hope local authorities will follow the directive when dealing with civil society organisations and when the NGOs carry out their activities,” he said…

San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the directive is apparently aimed at revising the existing law to provide more space for NGOs…

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Article
29 November 2018

Cambodia: PM reiterates his call to drop union leaders' charges by 2018

Author: Meta Kong, The Phnom Penh Post

"Dismissing unions is not good choice’, 29 November 2018

Prime Minister Hun Sen … requested prosecuted union leaders to submit relevant documents to the Labour and Justice ministries in order for the two institutions to work alongside the court in resolving their cases.

…, he said: “This is part of ensuring workers’ rights, including political rights of our unions.”

Hun Sen urged the court to accelerate their proceedings in resolving the cases, “so as to not let them prolong until next year”.

“To prevent riots from happening, there is no better option than having a dialogue. The option of dismissing unions is not a good choice as it only intensifies tensions further,” said Hun Sen.

Currently, six union leaders are facing long-standing charges…

Among them is Yang Sophorn, of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, who applauded Hun Sen’s recognition of the unions’ efforts in defending rights of workers.

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Article
3 December 2018

Cambodia: Court sets a trial date for union leaders charged following deadly protests in early 2014 after Prime Minister’s intervention

Author: Chheng Niem, The Phnom Penh Post

"Lethal protest union leaders’ trial date set", 3 December 2018

Phnom Penh Municipal Court has set this Friday as the start of the trial of six union leaders who were charged following protests after the 2013 national elections where demands to raise the minimum wage for garment factory workers turned violent.

A letter from prosecutor Ly Sophana to lawyer Choung Choungy,…, said the municipal court will begin hearing the cases on Friday…

Six presidents including those of the Free Trade Union (FTU) Chea Mony; Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) Ath Thorn; Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) Yang Sophorn; Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) Pav Sina; and Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) Rong Chhun face four charges.

They are: “Intentional acts of violence with aggravating circumstances”; “intentionally causing damage with aggravating circumstances”; “threats to destroy followed by an order”; and “blocking public traffic”…

In late 2013, the workers protested along Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard to demand an increase in the wage to $160 after the government raised it to $95 from $80…

Prime Minister Hun Sen … called for the courts to speed up the trials involving the union leaders…

The Ministry of Labour on … told the union leaders to report their cases to the ministry...

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Article
9 December 2018

Cambodia: Phnom Penh Municipal Court hears the trials of six union leaders after PM's call to expedite the judicial procedures

Author: Rathavong Ven, Khmer Times

"Court opens trial of unionists", 7 December 2018

Phnom Penh Municipal Court opened the trials of six union leaders concerning their roles in the violent protests following the 2013 election and will announce its verdict on December 11.  None of the accused was present.

The six union leaders are: Chea Mony, former president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia; Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union; Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions; Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers; former unionist Rong Chhun; and Mom Nhim, president of the National Independent Federation Textile Unions of Cambodia.

They are charged with intent to commit violence, intent to cause damage, threats to cause damage and obstructing traffic during the massive protests in late December 2013/early 2014 by garment workers demanding a higher minimum wage...

The lawyers representing Mr Thorn, Ms Sophorn, Mr Chhun and Mr Sina said that there is no evidence of their clients’ involvement in such actions, and asked that the charges be dropped.

The Garment Manufacturers Association wrote to the court ... withdrawing its complaint against the unionists.

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Article
12 December 2018

Cambodia: Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentences six union leaders to between eight months and four and a half years despite PM's intervention

Author: Chanthol Prak, Reuters

"Cambodia union leaders convicted over protests, jail terms suspended", 11 December 2018

A Cambodian court found six union leaders guilty … of instigating violent protests against the government in 2013 and 2014, but suspended their jail terms…

During one protest in 2014, military police fired on stone-throwing textile workers who were also demanding higher wages. A human rights group said at least four people were killed and more than 20 wounded.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court … found six union leaders guilty of initiating intentional violence and causing damage in the 2013-2014 protests. They were given suspended jail terms of between eight months and four and a half years.

“All of these jail terms are suspended,” Judge Im Vannak told the court, without elaborating. He ordered the union leaders, who did not appear in court, to pay a total of $8,692 in compensation to people injured in the 2014 clash.

Hun Sen told his ministers … to ease pressure on labor leaders, after threats by the European Union to remove the Southeast Asian country’s duty-free trading access.

Representatives from apparel and footwear companies, including Adidas, Nike and Puma, had urged the government to drop what are seen as politically motivated criminal charges against trade unionists.

The labor leaders said … they would appeal their convictions, which effectively bans them from leading a union.

“We can’t accept this criminal conviction record. The situation is now more tense than before,” said Ath Thon, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, who was among those found guilty.

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