London - Leading fashion brands producing goods in Cambodia are encouraged to speak out about numerous human rights violations taking place following the closing of democratic and civil society space.
Labour rights organizations Clean Clothes Campaign, Worker Rights Consortium and International Labour Rights Forum are calling on international fashion companies sourcing from Cambodia to take a stand against the repression of political leaders, non-governmental organization and independent media and urge the local government to respect human rights and labour rights.
“Unless the brands speak up loud and clear, we fear that the work of Cambodian trade unions, labour rights NGOs and other civil society organizations will be significantly impaired," said Jessica Champagne, Deputy Director for Field Operations and Strategy of the Worker Rights Consortium in a statement.
Retailers called on to speak out on labour and human rights violations in Cambodia
"This will have a negative impact on garment workers’ ability to raise workplace concerns and advocate for improvements. We are already seeing the erosion of the hard-won gains that workers and advocates have achieved in the last 10 years."
Recent examples of repression in the Cambodian democratic and civil society space includes the arrest of opposition party leader and President of the National Rescue Party Kem Sokha, who was charged with treason, the shut-down of the US-funded National Democratic Institute and the silencing of the Cambodia Daily, an independent English language newspaper that had been trading for 24 years.
At the moment Cambodia's garment and footwear sector is worth 6.8 billion US dollars, which accounts for 80 percent of the country's total exports, employing approximately 700,000 workers, which is why the labour rights are encouraging multinational brands to use their voice.
"Despite the deteriorating situation, it is essential that brands continue to stay engaged in Cambodia and uphold and defend the rights of the workers producing their garments," pointed out Ben Vanpeperstraete, Lobby and Advocacy Coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign. "They should insist that the government respect the fundamental rights of all people."
The organizations are calling on brands sourcing from Cambodia to make a public statement expressing their concerns about increased repression and the shutting down of democratic and civil society in Cambodia. They are also encouraging companies to engage directly with the Cambodian government to highlight the importance of a political and industrial environment that is consistent with international conventions.
Giving that the Trade Union Law signed in 2016 restricts the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, brands are urged to take more measures to make sure the rights of their workers are respected in their suppliers in Cambodia.
"Big brands can and must use their leverage," said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum. "They are profiting from doing business in the country, and if they want to claim to be doing so responsibly, they need to put principles into practice. Without basic freedoms and a government that respects human rights, workers, and trade unions, the garment sector will suffer."
Homepage photo: via Pixabay
Photo 1: The Women Power Fashion pop-up sweatshop, by Anko Stoffels