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M&S, Bonmarché & Nygård urged to compensate Cambodian workers

London - Marks & Spencer, Bonmarché and Nygård are being called upon step forward and take responsibility for the compensation of 208 workers in Cambodia, who were left without jobs or salaries following the sudden closure of a garment factory.

On July 1, 2016, 208 garment factory workers at the Chung Fai Knitwear Factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, were unexpectedly left unemployed, without any notice, severance pay or even their final salaries for the previous month of work. Over half of these workers, 126, has been working at the factory for more than ten years and were left with nothing after their sudden dismissal.

M&S, Bonmarché & Nygård urged to compensate Cambodian workers

M&S, Bonmarché & Nygård called upon to compensate workers from Chung Fai Knittwear Factoru

Following the factory closure, over a year ago, the workers came together to claim 550,000 US dollars to cover their final month's salaries and lawful severance pay. Together, the workers, the large majority of them women, stood together for their rights by preventing the owners from selling the remaining assets from the closed down factory, by physically occupying it and taking legal measures. On July 26, 2016, the local court issued an injunction order which temporarily froze the assets of Chung Fai.

But since then the workers have yet to receive any compensation from the factory, or the brands the factory produced garments for. The workers continue to appeal to M&S, Bonmarché and Nygård to intervene and provide them with the justice denied by the owner of Chung Fai. Labels from Marks and Spencer (M&S), Bonmarché as well as the Canadian brand Nygård were collected by workers in the factory, who state they were producing garments for the brands for a number of years.

However, all three of the brands initially denied contractual ties with Chung Fai. "M&S believe that the labels are invalid due to the code numbers on them," explained Nicola Round, Campaign Manager from Labour Behind the Label. The British retailer argues that the numbers on the labels found in Chung Fai do not correlate with any product numbers in their system and that they never had any of their products made in Chung Fai or orders placed with them.

"We are still in conversation with M&S, but they deny any contractual links"

Nicola Round, Campaign Manager, Labour Behind the Label

Nevertheless, illegal subcontracting is still highly prevalent in Cambodia, which means that another supplier for M&S may have illegally hired Chung Fai to process M&S orders. "Illegal subcontracting does not absolve brands of their responsibility to the workers in their supply chain," argues Round. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) outline the responsibility of all companies to 'avoid causing or contributing to' as well as 'seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts' connected to their business relations, which includes all workers in their supply chain.

“Bonmarché has been quite proactive.” The brand, later on, admitted that their garments could have been made at Chung Fai, but stressed that it was only a small order and that no future orders would take place until the case was resolved. Labour Behind the Label is still in discussion with Bonmarché, but Nygård and M&S continue to deny any involvement with the factory and any responsibility.

But a solution is desperately needed for the factory workers a year on. “Many of them are still unemployed and are very desperate at the moment,” added Round. Due to their sudden and unexpected joblessness, former Chung Fai workers have been left in economic hardship, forced to take out loans to make ends meet. Most of the workers were the breadwinners in their families, and many have been struggling to find new employment due to their age after working for so many years at Chung Fai.

Labour Behind the Label, Clean Clothes Campaign, Workers United Canada, and Maquila Solidarity Network have repeatedly contacted M&S, Bonmarché and Nygård and urged them to take responsibility for the workers. But Bonmarché’s parent company denies all responsibility. FashionUnited reached out to M&S, Bonmarché and Nygård but received no response from the brands prior to publication.

Photos: Workers protesting, Labour Behind the Label