“Justice Means a Living Wage!” declare Cambodian garment workers on May 1

The following statement was released by the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) on May 1, 2013. In response to a disappointingly small increase to the unlivable minimum wage, workers call directly on the multinational brands buying from Cambodian factories to guarantee living wages.

 » Download PDF in English or Khmer.

We, the garment workers of Cambodia represented by the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, declare that the minimum wage decided by the Labour Advisory Committee of $80 per month is grossly insufficient to meet our basic needs. We are calling on the multinational brands to ensure a minimum wage of $100 per month for Cambodian garment workers who produce apparel bearing their names.

A joint report released by Stanford Law School and the Workers Rights Consortium states that “[Cambodian] workers still suffered a 16.6% drop in real wages for regular work from 2000 to 2010, a decrease that was expected to grow by 30% by 2014”.{1} This decrease is compounded by the fact that the minimum wage was significantly below living wage levels in 2000 just as it is today. Studies by both the International Labour Organization and the Cambodia Institute of Development Study both conclude that the real adjusted wage for Cambodian garment workers should be $104 per month. This wage will allow us to provide for basic necessities such as food, housing, and the ability to save a small part of wages for when emergencies, such as the death of a family member, arise.

The mass workers fainting that have plagued workers in the Cambodian garment industry recently are just one of many consequences of insufficient wages. Since June 2010 there have been at least thirty-four separate incidents of mass fainting by workers in more than sixteen garment and footwear factories in Cambodia. In total, more than 4000 workers have fainted.{2} Secretary of State at the Cambodian Ministry of Labour, Mam Vannak, estimated that 60% of the fainting was “due to lack of nutrition”.{3}

But for us, this is about more than statistics – it is about our daily lives. Will we have enough to eat? Will we be able to provide a better future for our children? Sean Sophal has been working in a factory producing for major international brands for 10 years and still only earns the minimum base wage of $61 per month. Despite working overtime for at least two hours a day, she lacks enough money for nutritious food, schooling and transportation for her two sons, and to send home to her parents. She has to regularly take out high interest loans just to make ends meet. “I am appalled that while my coworkers and I have to decide between feeding our children nutritious foods and paying for their schooling, multinational brands are making billions of dollars off of our hard work.” Sean Sophal states that if she earned a minimum wage of at least $100 per month she could afford to buy more wholesome foods such as beef, enroll her sons in English classes, and have a little extra money for important religious and family obligations. “I call on all the multi-national brands that source from Cambodia to use their power to ensure a $100/mo minimum wage, not just for myself but for all garment workers in Cambodia.”

No longer will we allow the brands to escape their responsibilities. No longer can the brands hide behind the complexities of their supply chains, the intricate network of suppliers, subsidiaries and subcontractors. With just four major brands, H&M, GAP, Walmart, and Adidas having combined revenues of roughly $608 billion in 2012, an amount almost 43 times Cambodia’s entire GDP, it is obvious to us who has the real power to set working conditions and wages in Cambodia.{4}

While the multinational brands make record profits off of our labour, we toil for many hours a day, 6 sometimes 7 days a week to barely make ends meet. The sheer size and economic clout of the multinational brands that produce in Cambodia has made our great country a client state in this modern form of economic imperialism – whereby we do all the work and H&M, GAP, Walmart, and Adidas extract enormous profits.

We’re calling on all major brands sourcing from Cambodia to do everything in their power to ensure a minimum wage for garment workers of $100 per month. This includes adopting a policy that all factories sourcing to the brand must, under its contract with the brand, guarantee that workers employed by it will pay no less than $100. This also necessitates a reprieve in the extreme downward price pressures the multi-national brands put on supplier factories that undermine any real hope of improved conditions. Brands must pay more for goods and this increase must be passed on to the workers. No longer will we accept the answer that it is not the brands’ fault. We know this is a tactic to avoid responsibility and to encourage a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions, further increasing the brands’ bottom lines. It is the brands that make the massive profits off of our labour and it is the brands’ responsibility to ensure we are paid a living wage for our labour.

Sincerely Yours,

Ath Thorn
President of Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU)

1. “Monitoring in the Dark”, International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic Stanford Law School and
Workers Rights Consortium, 2013.
2. Presentation: Mass Faintings and Cambodia’s Wage Development, Peoples Tribunal on Asia Minimum Floor Wage,
Cambodia, Feb 2012 and “Cambodian’s Unions Cry Foul on Fainting Figures”, Phnom Penh Post, April 28, 2013.
3. “Official Says Faintings a ‘scar’ on image of nations factories”, Phnom Penh Post, November 16, 2011.
4. World Bank Statistics: http://data.worldbank.org/country/cambodia and NASDAQ and OMX Nordic Exchange Stock Reports.