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18 Dec 2020

Matt Blomberg & Mech Dara, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Cambodia: EU's partial withdrawal of EBA & COVID-19 pandemic hit hard on Cambodia's garment industry while workers are struggling to survive; major brands express concerns

"Will Cambodia's garment sector rebound after 'horror year'?", 18 December 2020

… Some Cambodian exports lost duty-free access to the EU … as the bloc signalled its discontent over the Southeast Asian country's crackdown on opposition, civil society and the media.

Hard-won labour rights have also been rolled back this year in the garment industry, workers' advocates say, as the virus has fuelled 'union-busting' at factories and poorer wages and conditions for those still in a job.

… Cambodian workers are owed more than $120 million in unpaid wages for the first three months of the pandemic alone, according to advocacy group Labour Behind the Label, describing it as a "mounting humanitarian crisis."

… Global brands, including Adidas and Levi Strauss, had urged Cambodia to reform and drop criminal charges against union leaders but Prime Minister Hun Sen, …, said the country would not "bow down" to foreign demands.

Bent Gehrt, Southeast Asia field director for U.S.-based Worker Rights Consortium monitoring group, described 2020 as a "horror year for garment workers".

"The country's performance on labour rights has deteriorated so severely that it has become a marketing liability for the country as a producer and increased brands' reputational risk," he said.

… But fashion giant H&M, which has about 50 factories in Cambodia, said sourcing in Cambodia had become "problematic" because of increased tariffs, labour rights and environmental concerns, particularly its recent heavy investment in coal.

"Production countries that continue to see coal as a viable energy source for the future could potentially lose out on future investments," H&M's Cambodia country manager Christer Horn Af Aminne said…