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11 Apr 2020

Matt Blomberg, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Cambodia: Factories remain open while workers struggle to repay loan; unions & employers association call for more responsibility from brands

"Cambodia's garment factories remain open despite growing fears among workers about catching the virus", 10 April 2020

Climbing onto a crowded truck each morning, Cambodian seamstress Sim Samphor cannot help but worry about catching the coronavirus that has closed down most of the country …

Parliament passed a law … to pave the way for a state of emergency, …

… At about $3,800, Cambodia's average microloan debt per borrower is the highest in the world, and more than double the average annual salary…

"Debt is the biggest issue facing our members," said Sar Mora, vice president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions.

"All workers are scared of the coronavirus, but the banks might get them first," he added.

Potential strikes have been discussed in recent weeks, and there were partial walk-outs in factories … after the travel ban was issued, said Khun Tharo, a program coordinator at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, a charity.

"The ongoing social and economic pressure that's on these women to provide for their families is massive," he said.

About 100 factories … have suspended work due to shortages of material and orders drying up in recent weeks, affecting more than 60,000 jobs.

Hun Sen … said suspended garment workers would receive $70 a month - just over a third of the minimum wage and less than the previously promised sum of $114 - with the government and employers paying $40 and $30 respectively.

Brands that source from Cambodia - including Adidas, H&M, PUMA and Levi Strauss - should take more responsibility, said Ken Loo, head of the nation's Garment Manufacturers Association…