Tag Archives: Cambodia

News in Review – Cambodia

October 1, 2015

Cambodian garment workers have been striking and protesting since May, advocating for an increase in their current $128 USD monthly minimum wage.

The International Labor Organization, Human Rights Watch, and international human rights groups have raised concerns over workers being underpaid, overworked, sexually harassed, and discriminated against if pregnant. Moreover, thousands of garment workers have fainted on the job since 2011 due to malnourishment, overwork, and poor air circulation in the workplace. According to a Human Rights Watch report, workers have been ordered to fulfill daily quotas of 1500 clothing pieces, often working until 9 p.m. and receiving only 15 minutes to eat lunch.

Since 2013, workers have clashed with government forces while striking over wage disputes, forced overtime work, and prejudice against pregnant women. In 2014, five workers were fatally shot by Cambodian authorities during industry-wide protests. The firm DC Research recently conducted a survey examining garment workers’ expenses. Funded by the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Foundation, and international labor rights organizations IndustriALL Global Union and Solidarity Center, the survey was the first of its kind in six years. Union members interviewed 745 garment workers across Cambodia. Findings revealed that monthly expenditures, including remittances back to families in rural communities, averaged $207.50 USD per person. To keep up with expenses, many workers try to support themselves with second jobs and working overtime.

Cambodia’s 28-member Labor Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet this week to negotiate a newly proposed minimum wage for the country’s 700,000 garment workers. However, the committee’s seven union leaders cannot agree on a recommended wage. Given the recent survey findings, some leaders want to propose a $207 minimum wage, while others are more cautiously proposing an increase of only 10-15 percent. The Labor Ministry’s Spokesman Heng Sour claims that the unions will lose their right to negotiate if the seven members cannot agree on a single proposed rate.

Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), states that the only acceptable increase in wage would reflect the inflation rate, which is less than three percent. He insists that they cannot afford any further increase, given competition from other countries, notably Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia’s garment industry makes up approximately one-third of its national GDP. He also claims that workers take home more than revealed in the survey and dismisses the survey and foreign involvement as malicious and “disruptive.” Labor rights advocates, including William Conklin, Country Director for Solidarity Center, anticipate that an $80 wage increase will not be accepted, especially when union leaders do not have a unified voice nationally. Moreover, it is expected that clothing brands themselves could best influence the wage debate. Representatives from brands such as H&M, Arcadia, and C&A were in the country last week discussing the wage increases, though no information has been released from their meetings. Advocates are concerned that even if the wage increases, landlords and stores in proximity to the garment factories will respond by raising prices.

The minimum wage issue reflects a deeper struggle in the working class, stemming back to the Khmer Rouge regime. During the regime, schools were closed and intellectuals eradicated, in attempts to achieve a classless, agrarian society. Today, half of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 25 and the vast portion of the working class remains undereducated and holds no professional working skills. Many workers, primarily women, migrate from rural towns into Phnom Penh to work in garment factories. These workers endure long, arduous working conditions, often with the priority to send money back to their families.

Negotiations between government, employers, and unions are slated to continue through the week.

Photo credit: World Bank

The views expressed by Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Interns are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

Sources:                                     

Carmichael, Robert. “HRW: Cambodia Failing to Protect Garment Workers.” Voice of America. 12 Mar. 2014.

Carmichael, Robert. “Pilot Project to Boost Nutrition for Cambodian Garment Workers.” Voice of America. 14 Oct. 2014.

Cox, Jonathan. “Garment Workers Want More Pay to Cover Costs.” Khmer Times. 21 Sept. 2015.

Dara, Mech and Zsombor Peter, “Government Tells Unions to Pick a Minimum Wage or Lose Their Say.” The Cambodia Daily. 23 Sept. 2015.

Mony, Serey and Samean Yun. “Garment Workers Demand Cambodian Government Resolve Employment Issue.” Radio Free Asia. 21 Sept. 21, 2015.

Reaksmey, Hul. “Manufacturers Say They Can’t Raise Wage to $207 Per Month.” Voice of America, Cambodia: Khmer. 22 Sept. 2015.

Work Faster or Get Out: Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry.” Human Rights Watch. 11 March 2015.

Meet Daniel Orth, MA, IPJ Program Officer for Strategic Peacebuilding

The IPJ added two program officers for strategic peacebuilding to its team earlier this year. Daniel Orth, MA, has worked at Conflict Dynamics International and with Search for Common Ground in Zanzibar. In addition to field work later this summer, Orth and Program Officer Kara Wong, MA, are planning this fall’s Peacebuilding and the Arts Symposium at the institute. 

Q: What brought you to the field of peacebuilding? What has been your trajectory to this work and the IPJ?

From an early age I’ve been interested in understanding why people get into conflict with each other and trying to help people solve their problems. While conflict can be incredibly destructive, conflict also creates the space for progress. By working through problems in a constructive way, we can build better, stronger relationships.

In middle school (a dark period for everyone as we struggle to determine who we are) I became a peer mediator to help my classmates work through problems they were having with each other. During my undergraduate studies, I took part in the Washington Semester program at American University where I studied peace and conflict resolution. We traveled to the former Yugoslavia to meet with a wide range of stakeholders, and I was inspired by the passion all of these individuals had for repairing their society. For eight years I taught U.S. history to middle school students and encouraged them to think about how people have used conflict (not only violent conflict) to try to advance their objectives — sometimes for good and sometimes not.

I began my graduate studies at the Fletcher School thinking that I wanted to focus on international development, but during my first semester I enrolled in a course on conflict resolution theory and quickly fell back in love. I spent the summer between the two years of my master’s degree working in Zanzibar with Search for Common Ground, and during my second year dedicated myself to a project working with Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews.

If someone asked me what I wanted to be doing at this point in my career, I would have written a job description nearly identical to the one for the program officer for strategic peacebuilding position at the IPJ. I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of an organization committed to working over the long-term with local partners by listening and responding to their needs.

Orth worked with Search for Common Ground in Zanzibar

Orth worked with Search for Common Ground in Zanzibar

Q: Who do you consider your professional mentors?

At the Fletcher School I had the good fortune of studying under and working alongside Professor Eileen Babbitt. Through her I learned a great deal about the practice of conflict resolution, and over the past two years she has shared with me her experience and been a great mentor and friend.

Q: What has been the most important experience you’ve had working in the field? What experience taught you the most?

I once went to meet with a local partner organization to discuss the work we were doing together. As we sat down, I started asking a lot of questions and listening. After a few minutes I realized that rather than working together as partners, our two organizations had been in a very unequal relationship with one side dictating terms to the other. By figuring out the strengths and weaknesses, needs and concerns of both our organizations, we were able to build a much healthier and more productive partnership.

Q: What aspects of your position as program officer are you most looking forward to?

All of them? I am excited to continue the incredible field work that the IPJ team has been committed to for many years, and I am looking forward to building on the many successes that we have already had working alongside our local partners. At the same time, the prospect of creating new relationships with new partners excites me. As someone dedicated to education, I am also anxious to work with the IPJ’s interns and the students of the Kroc School of Peace Studies. While I am certain that my knowledge and experiences can benefit them, I also know I will be inspired by them and learn a great deal from what they have seen and done.

Q: Is this your first time living on the West Coast? What will you miss about the East Coast?

I was born and grew up on the East Coast in Lancaster, Penn., and later lived in New York and Boston. For nearly 10 years I called New Orleans and the Gulf Coast my home. It was finally time to make it out here to the West Coast.

Without a doubt the thing I will miss most about the East Coast is being close to my family. My brother and his wife, who live in Maryland, just had their first child and for now I’ll have to be a Skype Uncle.

Besides that, as a former history teacher I’m partial to the history of the East Coast — Tea Parties, Liberty Bells and all that. While I know California has a rich history, of which I’m anxious to learn more, I feel more closely connected to the stories from back east. That being said, I became pretty enamored with the history of Louisiana after teaching it for five years, so maybe the tales of the Bear Republic will win me over after all.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or a favorite author or book? Do you have a motto that you live by?

My grandfather (who turned 90 last year) has always said that if someone were to die tomorrow, make sure there isn’t anything that you wish you would have said to them or done differently for them. In this era of constant distraction and divided attention, I think this is an important reminder to always try to be present in the moment, to give people your full attention, to listen to them, and, ultimately, to make sure they know they’re loved.

I love reading, so it’s very hard for me to pick out a favorite author, much less a single book to call my favorite. But one book that has been important to me throughout my life is The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. The book was always a personal favorite growing up, but I had no idea of its illustrious history until recently: a favorite of FDR and Gandhi, banned by Franco and burnt by Hitler, and accepted by Stalin as the only non-communist children’s book. Ferdinand’s willingness to be different, to do what he wants despite the norms and expectations of bovine society has always inspired me. I just gave a copy to my nephew when he was born last year and hope that he too will find inspiration in the story of a little bull.