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Cambodia: Unions urge factory producing for intl. apparel brands to withdraw charges against jailed union leader released on bail; Incl. company responses

On 2 April 2020, garment factory worker and union leader Soy Sros was arrested in Cambodia after posting a message on social media criticizing the planned dismissal of union members, including a pregnant woman, from Superl Cambodia Ltd during the Covid-19 crisis. Soy Sros - local president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers - wrote about the company’s actions on Facebook, stating it violated an appeal from the Cambodian government that the pandemic should not be used as a pretext to discriminate against union members.

On 28 June, after spending almost two months in detention where she reportedly experienced a deterioration in health, Sros was released on bail. She has been charged with ‘provocation’ under the criminal code and faces up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of six million Riel (approx. US$1,500). According to media reports, the factory produces for Michael Kors, Tory Burch & Kate Spade (Tapestry).

Local and international unions are calling for the following demands to be met, by pressure on the factory owners and the buyers:

  • All charges against Mrs Soy Sros must be dropped;
  • Mrs Soy Sros to be immediately reinstated in her role at the factory;
  • Mrs Soy Sros to receive back pay for wages lost during her detention, also accounting for the harm to her reputation;
  • Ensure that workers' rights and FoA is fully respected and that Mrs. Soy Sros will not be retaliated against upon reinstatement.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Superl Holdings Ltd, Michael Kors, Tory Burch & Tapestry to respond to the allegations. Superl Holdings responded and the response is included below. Michael Kors, Tory Burch & Tapestry did not respond.

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Article
15 June 2020

Superl factory drops charges against union leader, amid fears garment workers rights' at risk during COVID-19

Author: Annie Kelly & Harriet Grant, The Guardian

"Jailed for a Facebook post: garment workers' rights at risk during Covid-19", 16 June 2020

On... 31 March.... Soy Sros, a young Cambodian garment worker... posted... on Facebook... the factory’s plans to... dismiss 88 workers... Superl Holdings, which makes luxury handbags for Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade, Coach and Versace... filed criminal charges, claiming that she had incited social unrest, defamed the factory and spread “fake news”. The Cambodian courts charged her with an additional two criminal charges for provocation... that carry prison terms of up to three years...The treatment of Sros... [and] silence of the brands... is striking terror into the Cambodian garment worker community. It is also adding to fears among labour rights campaigners that Covid-19 is providing cover for an industry-wide suppression of workers’ voices across the apparels industry. Sros, who is also a union representative... spent 55 days in pre-trial detention... 

At the Huabo Times factory in [Myanmar]... unions say that 107 workers were dismissed under the guise of Covid-19 and 26 were members of a union only started a few days earlier. Of the other 81 workers, the majority were openly supportive of the union... a worker [said]...“Three days after we registered a new union they dismissed the staff. They used the excuse of the impact of Covid-19 and said they had to reduce the workforce but a few weeks later they transferred the workers from another factory into Huabo Times.” Primark, Zara and Mango say they are committed to ensuring workers can unionise, and are launching investigations and working with their suppliers to resolve any issues. The factory management at Huabo Times could not be reached for comment.

In Cambodia, media coverage and campaigning by Sros’ union... has seen Superl Holdings agree to drop the charges. Sros is now back at work but the criminal charges filed by the government currently still stand...

Read the full post here

Item
2 June 2020

Cambodia: Unions outline demands to be met by pressure on Superl factory owners & intl. buyers

Author: Clean Clothes Campaign

"Live-blog: How the Coronavirus affects garment workers in supply chains", 2 June 2020

According to reports from the CCC network, Superl management is in the process of applying all procedures for the withdrawal of the legal complaint against Mrs Soy Sros, local union president of the Collective Union of Movement Workers (CUMW). Although this has been received as a step in the right direction, the CUMW reiterates that it is not clear how long this will take. Since being released on bail, there have been at least two negotiation meetings regarding the withdrawal of accusations. Trade unions and labour rights organisations, including CCC, are still fighting for the following demands to be met, by pressure on the factory owners and the buyers, Michael Kors and Kate Spade:

  1. All charges against Mrs Soy Sros must be dropped;
  2. Mrs Soy Sros to be immediately reinstated in her role at the factory;
  3. Mrs Soy Sros to receive back pay for wages lost during her detention, also accounting for the harm to her reputation;
  4. Ensure that workers' rights and FoA is fully  respected and that Mrs. Soy Sros will not be retaliated against upon reinstatement.

Read the full post here

Company response
31 May 2020

Superl Holdings response

Author: Superl Holdings

With reference to your email to us, Ms Sros is out of prison. CUMW and we are working hand in hand to help her.

Please find the following CUMW email to us for reference [Excerpt from email copied below]

Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), would like to inform you about the meeting result today, on May 30, 2020 between the factory management of Superl and Siglo and CUMW on the case of Mrs. Soy Sros.

Here is the summary of responses from Superl and Siglo

1.      Superl will go to the police on Monday June 1, 2020 to understand the situation, communicate with the police, they will do their best to help Mrs. Soy Sros.

2.      During the period of Mrs. Soy Sros was in the jail, they will pay as normal workers in the factory. 

3.      Another meeting will be arranged between Cumw plus Mrs. Soy Sros and Superl to make an agreement without retaliation, discrimination to each other. The both will forget the past and closely work together for improving working conditions for workers in the factory.

Company non-response
30 May 2020

Michael Kors did not respond

Company non-response
30 May 2020

Tapestry did not respond

Company non-response
30 May 2020

Tory Burch did not respond

Article
29 May 2020

Cambodia: Union leader released from jail after 2 months without trial; Union calls for her reinstatement, back pay, benefits & compensation

Author: IndustriALL

"Cambodian unionist released from jail", 29 May 2020

Cambodian unionist Soy Sros was released on 28 May, after being detained without trial for nearly two months. She was jailed for a post on social media criticizing her employer, Superl Cambodia Ltd, for suspending union members, including a pregnant woman...

CUMW president Pav Sina says: “While we welcome the release, CUMW stresses that the government must drop all investigations on Soy Sros. Superl Cambodia Ltd must immediately reinstate her with full back pay, benefits and damage compensation. “We call on the company to respect the union leader’s free speech and her role as a worker representative.”...

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak and factory shutdowns, Soy Sros was fighting for the rights of CUMW members, including a pregnant woman, as Superl Cambodia Ltd. announced that their employment contracts would not be renewed on 2 April...

Read the full post here

Article
18 May 2020

Cambodia: IndustriALL calls for release of jailed union leader

Author: IndustriALL

“Jailed union leader in Cambodia must be released immediately!”, 18 May 2020

Soy Sros, a local union leader at Superl Cambodia, has been arrested and imprisoned for a post on social media criticising the suspension of union members, including a pregnant woman, during the coronavirus crisis... 

Soy Sros was arrested on 2 April for 'provocation' under the criminal code.

According to CUMW president Pav Sina, Soy Sros’ health is deteriorating, and although she is receiving medical treatment in prison, she should be released as soon as possible and given access to medical treatment in a hospital...

Defending the union leader, IndustriALL sent a letter to Superl Holdings on 16 April, urging the company to withdraw the charges against Mrs. Soy Sros. The company has failed to respond.

Read the full post here

Article
8 May 2020

Garment workers in Myanmar & Cambodia allege factories are using COVID-19 as pretext to dismiss unionised workforce

Author: Elizabeth Paton, New York Times

"Union Garment Workers Fear 'an Opportunity to Get Rid of Us'", 8 May 2020

Myan Mode... produces... for fashion companies like Mango and Zara. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it has seen a decrease in orders from international retailers. That was why it let go almost half of its 1,274 workers in late March, the factory’s managing director said... Three fired sewing operators, however, said the factory was taking an opportunity to punish workers engaged in union activity... Maung Moe, Ye Yint and Ohnmar Myint — said that of the 571 who had been dismissed, 520 had belonged to the factory’s union... About 700 workers who did not belong to the union kept their jobs... Maung Moe... said he and other union members had been in discussions with the factory managers before the firings, demanding personal protective equipment and [physical distancing]...

[T]he fired... workers had protested outside the factory for weeks, watching as daily wage workers entered and... former colleagues left at midnight after overtime shifts. Eventually, management offered severance but not re-employment to the 571 fired workers, plus 49 employees who had walked out in solidarity. All but 79 eventually took the severance pay... 

On March 31, several dozen union workers at the Superl leatherwear factory... [in] Phnom Penh — which produces handbags for brands like Michael Kors, Tory Burch and Kate Spade — were told they were being let go. One was a woman who was six months pregnant. Soy Sros, a factory shop steward and the local president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, wrote about the company’s actions on Facebook... [and] was forced by factory management to take down her post and make a thumbprint on a warning letter accusing her of defamation. On April 2, she was... charged with posting fake information on social media. She is now in jail.

Superl, which is based in Hong Kong, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Michael Kors and Tory Burch, which regularly place orders at the factory. Another customer, Tapestry, the owner of Kate Spade, declined to comment...

Read the full post here

Item
16 April 2020

IndustriALL letter calling on Superl Holdings Ltd to withdraw charges against Soy Sros

Author: IndustriALL

"IndustriALL Global Unions calls on Superl Holdings Ltd to withdraw the charges against Mrs. Soy Sros in order to end malicious prosecution against her", 16 April 2020

... I am writing this letter to you on behalf of IndustriALL Global Union... to call on your company to immediately withdraw the charges against Mrs Soy Sros in order to end the malicious prosecution against her... [T]he Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) of Cambodia, which represents the workers intimidated and harassed by the company, is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union. We learned that Mrs. Soy Sros, a local union president of CUMW, was arrested by the police at the administrative department of the company on 2 April 2020, after she posted on Facebook a message "Superl is disrespecting the recommendations of Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodian government, it terminated employment contracts of factory workers including a pregnant worker on the ground of lack of raw material due to Covid-19”...

As you are well aware, all of your clients have clear codes of conducts that ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. As part of your clients’ due diligence they have the obligation to ensure that there are no rights violations in their supply chain...

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