Tag Archives: internship

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.

Lessons I’ve Learned – Stories from Kenya

By Jessica Ciccarelli

Nairobi’s streets are wild—an organized, yet chaotic masterpiece unique to this “City in the Sun.” That’s what I realized the day I stepped foot in Nairobi. The smells, sounds and sights all have their own distinct Nairobi twist. There’s nothing quite like navigating this assault to the senses. Imagine, if you can, the smell of barbecued beef (Nyama Choma), garbage, sweat, and nature at the exact moment you are hearing and seeing cars, buses (matatus),  motorbikes (bodabodas), camels, goats, push carts and any combination of security officers from Nairobi’s dozen different security agencies holding what look, at least to me, a lot like AK47s. Simply, strangely, I miss this Nairobi chaos.

Kariobangi youth leading goats to pasture

Kariobangi youth leading goats to pasture

Who am I? I am a graduate student at the Kroc School of Peace Studies that was given the opportunity to traverse these wild streets, to befriend the line where Nairobi’s rich greenness becomes as sparse as the income, and to call it a program requirement for my school. I interned this summer with organizations that live and work in communities which many people—local and international alike—fear entering, and it was in those communities that I fell in love with that beautiful city and its residents. There I became irreversibly interested in the work of the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ). This internship with the IPJ gave me a unique and new love that showed me the beauty that can be found in struggle if you open your mind and heart to it.

I had the honor this summer of working with three incredible organizations: Chemchemi Ya Ukweli (Kiswahili for Wellspring of Truth), Catholic Relief Services and Caritas. With Chemchemi Ya Ukweli, I interviewed actors at every level of Nairobi society to better understand the relationship between youth and police. This led me to communities all over Nairobi – from the lavish, upmarket areas to the more impoverished, informal communities. Riding this line between upmarket and informal gave me a depth of understanding around identity I could have gotten nowhere else. While working with Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, whose work is largely based in the informal and impoverished communities, I wandered around the settlements in Kariobangi and Mathare. There, I met countless youth who permanently changed the way that I think about what are considered informal communities and informal employment.

Matatu ni matata - "The terrible matatus!"

Matatu ni matata – “The terrible matatus!”

I learned a great deal from this internship with the IPJ field program in Kenya and there are many things I will carry with me as I transition this fall from my role as a student of peace to someone who helps build it. Knowledge like the value of local voices that goes beyond meeting basic demands for local buy-in and insists on real, local, grassroots initiation.

Following this introductory post about my work in Kenya, I will be writing a series of pieces dedicated to my experience with the IPJ in Nairobi. In these, I will have the opportunity to share some of the big lessons I’ve learned. The posts will explore four different themes: 1) How the teachings and values of the Kroc School of Peace Studies aided and influenced my practice this summer; 2) How external actors engage with local communities—how to avoid “slum tourism” or “the savior complex”; 3) Youth and police identity in Nairobi; and finally 4) Tribal identity in Kenya. In these posts, I will not only share some of the lessons I learned this summer, but I will also try to show how the methods and values of the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice are exceptional and have shaped both my field experience and the lives of the individuals I met.

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.