Cambodia: a country and an industry in turmoil

Find out more on the harsh struggles in Cambodia via background texts, interviews with workers and activists and video's.
Scroll down to learn more about the worker struggles over the last year in the interactive timeline.

Freedom of association under pressure in Cambodia

 The ongoing repression of garment workers and independent trade unions in Cambodia intensified in 2013 and early 2014. Company managers are unwilling to respect legitimate workers rights, and strikes have turned violent.

In Cambodia, fundamental rights remain far from respected, as is clear from several cases that the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) has worked on in 2013. CCC has been working with Cambodian partner organisations and trade unions to improve the working conditions in garment factories. Unfortunately 2013 stood out because of the high amount of cases in which serious intimidation, violence and lack of freedom of association were encountered. Below follows a brief overview of cases that CCC has worked on throughout 2013, illustrating the repressive situation in Cambodia.

Kingsland and E-Garment are in Phnom Penh, SL Garrment is located close to Phom Penh (about 20 km), and the wage strike took place all over the country, but mostly centred in Phom Penh as well.

Kingsland vigil
Kingsland workers holding a vigil. Credit: Heather Stillwell
Garment workers of the Kingsland factory, located in Phnom Penh, were deprived of their legally owed compensation (so-called severance) after the factory abruptly closed its doors early 2013. As a consequence, workers lacked the means to pay for their rent, food for their family and themselves, children’s school and medicines. In order to prevent machinery being taken out and assets being sold, workers held a months lasting vigil in front of the factory building, facing a lot of intimidation and threats.



E-Garment demonstration
E-Garment demonstration
Workers of the E-Garment factory, as well located in Phnom Penh, faced strong opposition of the factory management against independent trade unions. After illegally firing 33 workers, the company engaged in several unprovoked and violent attacks on workers. The workers were part of an independent trade union and were peacefully protesting against the company’s refusal to reinstate the workers. Intimidation was not limited to the workers only; when a delegation of the Clean Clothes Campaign visited the protesting workers in February 2013 they were taken into custody and spend several hours at the police station.



SL Garment violence
Violence against SL Garment workers
At the SL Garment factory intimidation was institutionalised by the factory management by appointing a military general as floor manager. He allocated armed military police in and around the factory, hereby intimidating the workers. Nineteen union leaders were fired and legal cases were filed against them. As a response to these conditions and other labour rights violations, 700 workers of SL Garment went on strike in August 2013. The strike ended after months in a violent encounter with the police, seriously injuring 11 workers and costing the life of a street vendor. In December 2013, an agreement was reached between the factory management and the trade union. However, in May 2014 hardly any of the points of the agreement had been met yet.


Cambodia wage strike
$160 we need! Credit: Licadho
Late December 2013 garment workers started a national strike after the government announced a raise of the monthly minimum wage to US $ 95,-. Thousands of workers took the streets for days and demanded a monthly minimum wage of US $ 160,-. After ten days the protest was met with severe violence by the government, killing five people, leaving forty injured and one still missing. Over twenty workers and union activists were arrested. There has been a ban on public gatherings and freedom of association for weeks. The constitutional right to form a new (factory-level) trade union has been suspended.  Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) filed law suits against union leaders, holding them responsible for damages, instigating violence and loss of income. Extensive reports on the wage strike have been published by the Worker Rights Consortium (PDF) and Asia Monitor Resource Center (PDF)

Unfortunately, the above mentioned occurences are no incidents. They fit the general pattern of Cambodian worker repression and lack of freedom of association, as shown by the 2010 wage strike and its aftermath, and the shooting of three women protesting for better working conditions in 2012. See Heather Stillwell's website for a powerful video where these women tell their story

Dying for fashion

Deadly clashes between poor garment workers and police are threatening to cripple Cambodia's largest export industry. A reportage by Al Jazeera

Free the 23!

About the 23 union members and worker organizers who are in custody now.

Timeline of garment worker struggles in Cambodia, in 2013 and extending into 2014

Use your arrow keys or mouse to slide along the timeline.

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The work of the Clean Clothes Campaign is supported by the European Union under the European Instrument of Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). The contents of this website are the sole responsibility of the Clean Clothes Campaign and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.