Thousands keep up protest at Cambodian garment factory

PHNOM PENH Wed May 29, 2013 8:20am EDT

PHNOM PENH May 29 (Reuters) - About 3,500 workers protested on Wednesday at a factory in Cambodia that makes clothing for U.S. sportswear company Nike, refusing to give up their campaign for higher pay despite a crackdown by police this week.

At least 23 people were injured on Monday when police with riot gear and stun batons were deployed to disperse about 3,000 workers, most of them women, who had blocked a road outside the factory owned by Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing in Kampong Speu province, west of the capital, Phnom Penh.

One woman who was two months pregnant lost her child after military police pushed her to the ground, according to a trade union representative.

The workers walked out on strike on May 21. Sun Vanny, president of the Free Trade Union (FTU) at Sabrina, said about 4,000 workers were expected to join the protest on Thursday.

"We will continue the strike to demand what they want," Vanny said, adding that union representatives had been invited for talks on Wednesday but no agreement had been reached.

"We want to know why violence was used against the woman and workers, we want to know who hired these officers to come," he added, referring to Monday's clash.

A Nike spokeswoman in the United States told Reuters by email on Monday that the company was "concerned" about the allegations that workers had been hurt and was investigating. Nike requires contract manufacturers to respect employees' rights to freedom of association, the spokeswoman added

Hong Luy, chief of administration for Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing, said the company could not afford to raise workers' pay. She said workers made up to $102 a month and the strike had forced the factory to shut down until Friday.

Kheng Tito, spokesman for military police, who were deployed on Monday, denied that his men had used violence. He said some policemen had been hurt by workers throwing stones and he denied that any women had lost a baby.

Many Western brands, attracted by cheap labour, have turned to Asia to get their garments made at a cost that will make them attractive to customers in the troubled economies of Europe and North America looking for discounted clothing.

A series of deadly incidents at factories in Bangladesh, the world's biggest clothing exporter after China, including the collapse of a building last month that killed more than 1,000 people, has focused the world's attention on safety standards.

Strikes over pay and working conditions have become common in Cambodia, where garments accounted for 75 percent of total exports of $5.22 billion in 2011, according to the International Monetary Fund.

This month, two people were killed at a factory producing running shoes for Asics when part of a warehouse fell in on them. (Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)

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