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26 Jan 2013

Cambodia: Violent crackdown on garment workers protesting for higher wages - Jan 2014

Last updated 29 January 2014

A violent crackdown on striking garment workers in Cambodia on 3 January 2014 has reportedly left four dead and dozens more arrested and injured. This page summarises recent events that led to the crackdown, and links to related articles and statements.

Latest additions:

26 Jan: More violence broke out in Phnom Penh, leading to a number of injuries, as unions and associations defied a ban on public gatherings to demand the release of 23 people detained after the January 3 crackdown on garment workers.

- “Cambodia: detention of labour activists unjustified”, International Commission of Jurists, 23 Jan 2014


24 December 2013: Ministry of Labor outlined a plan proposed by the multi-sectoral Labor Advisory Council to raise the minimum wage from $80 to $95. This increase did not meet the demand of garment workers and unions, who had asked for $160 a month, and started weeks of protests and marches involving thousands of workers. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) backed the unions and called for a nationwide strike. The CNRP had been holding daily protests since July calling for new elections; the labour protests therefore took place alongside political unrest and anti-government protests. At least seven were arrested and seven injured in Phnom Penh on 27 December as striking workers and riot police started to clash.

29 Dec: Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia called on factories to stay closed until safety was guaranteed.

1 January 2014: After a week of nationwide protests, the Ministry of Labour announced that it would increase the monthly minimum wage by an additional $5, to $100. This was still rejected by the six national unions.

3 Jan: Tension between the strikers and police continued to escalate and peaked on 3 January when military police armed with assault rifles opened fire on several hundred workers who were blocking a road in Phnom Penh, leaving at least four dead and dozens more arrested and injured. Photographs of events that led to the deadly encounter are on this page by Ruom Collective, a Cambodia-based group of journalists.

7 Jan: Global Post reported on a statement by the South Korean embassy that, to protect South Korean companies' investments in garment factories, it had convinced "the Cambodian government to 'understand the seriousness of this situation and act swiftly.' It cited high-level lobbying over the past two weeks as contributing to the 'success' of protecting business interests.  The embassy boasted that Korean factories at the Canadia Industrial Park, where the Friday killings took place, were handed a special favor as a result of diplomats’ efforts. Their buildings were the only ones to get special protection from soldiers, the [embassy's] statement claimed."  The article refers to Yakjin - a garment producer jointly owned by South Korean & US investors, which reportedly supplies American Eagle, Gap and Walmart - and includes comments by Yakjin.

10 Jan: Over a hundred factories filed lawsuits against the six trade unions behind the strikes, accusing them of inciting the protests and inflicting damage on property. The unions denied the accusations and in turn accused security forces of using excessive force against protesters.

13 Jan: The unions involved in the strikes reportedly asked the Labor Ministry to resume negotiations on a new minimum wage, saying that they would hold more protests if their request is denied. The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) reportedly responded by saying that it would not enter into negotiations with the unions as they represented only a minority of all the unions in the sector.

21 Jan: Police briefly detained 11 activists, composed of union leaders and land rights advocates, as they were delivering a letter to the U.S. Embassy asking for help in securing the release of 23 others detained after the crackdown on striking garment workers. They were reportedly released on the same day after they were made to declare that they would not take part in further demonstrations.

26 Jan: More violence broke out in Phnom Penh, leading to a number of injuries, as unions and associations defied a ban on public gatherings to demand the release of 23 people detained after the January 3 crackdown on garment workers.

Commentaries and responses

- Asian TNCs Monitoring Network launches online petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen:
“Mr. Hun Sen: Stop the Brutal Suppression of Workers and Trade Unions in Cambodia”, Asian TNCs Monitoring Network via change.org, Jan 2013

- Avaaz.org launches online petition:
“Prime Minister Hun Sen: Protect right to peaceful protest and end military crackdown in Cambodia”, Avaaz.org, Jan 2013

“UN Calls For Investigation of Violent Cambodian Government Crackdown”, Radio Free Asia, 7 Jan 2013

- Western brands, including Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, Gap, H&M, Inditex, Levi Strauss and Puma write an open letter urging the Cambodian Government to refrain from using violence:
“H&M, Gap, Adidas, and Puma Condemn Cambodian Police Killing of Striking Garment Workers”, Umberto Bacchi, International Business Times, 7 Jan 2013 [also refers to Nike]

- “ITUC Statement on Cambodia, 13 January 2014”, International Trade Union Confederation

- “On the Cambodian Government’s crackdown on workers protest”, Jan 2014, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights

- "Striking a balance in Cambodia - International brands can no longer ignore human rights abuses in their supply chains", 11 Jan 2014, Marta Kasztelan, The Diplomat

"Cambodia: Urging garment manufacturers to respect workers’ rights", Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), 17 Jan 2014

- “Cambodia: Detainess in Crackdown Denied Rights – Free Peaceful Activists, Ensure Access to Lawyers, Medical Care”, Human Rights Watch, 9 Jan 2014

- “Retail association urge talks”, Daniel de Carteret, Phnom Penh Post, 17 Jan 2014

- “Shooting probe urged” [by Prof. Surya Subedi, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia], Daniel Pye, Phnom Penh Post, 17 Jan 2014

- “Cambodia: detention of labour activists unjustified”, International Commission of Jurists, 23 Jan 2014