Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blog #10: Cambodian Garment Workers’ Protest Escalates to Violence

     Hundreds of workers scheduled a march from the SL Garment Processing Ltd. Factory to the Phnom Penh residence of Prime Minister Hun Sen in protest of their poor working conditions. Police fired live ammunition and tear gas during the clash that erupted between the unarmed protestors. A street vendor selling rice was killed and many others injured by stray bullets. Violent protests have quadrupled since May when a roof collapsed at a Cambodian shoe plant leaving three people dead and others injured. The plant workers are angry over the dangerous work conditions for little pay they must endure daily to produce clothing cheaply for Western retailers. Most of these factory owners are foreign, and find Cambodia appealing due to its low-cost labor. These businesses have seen their businesses grow, with the help of the low wages and a government encouraging private enterprise. During their protests, the garment workers express that with this growth in the economy they too should see more benefits trickle down to them.

     In recent years, Cambodia has seen an increase in the shoe and garment sector. The International Monetary Fund stated this sector alone accounts for roughly 80 percent of the Southeast Asian Country’s exports. However, Prime Minister Hun Sen has commented that if these violent protests continue it may lead to firms relocating to countries like Burma, Laos or India where labor is cheaper. This would result in a rapid decline in their economy hurting these workers even more. Factory owners are aware that wages are not keeping up with inflation and the challenges it causes their employees. Jill Tucker, the chief technical adviser with the ILO’s Better Factories program in Cambodia, says the answer lies with the consumer. She stated, "If you look at the global garment industry, you'll see that wages have risen across the board, material costs have risen, energy costs have risen, but none of us are paying more for our garments than we were a decade ago.” Unfortunately unless these factors change, the protests and violence will continue.

Elaine Etzler


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