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By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH May 30 A Cambodian court found 25
people guilty on Friday of acts of violence during strikes by
garment workers but all were given suspended sentences and
freed, a ruling likely to be welcomed by global manufacturers
operating in the country.
The deadly crackdown on the strikes and working conditions
in the garment sector have attracted international criticism.
Representatives of global brands including Hennes & Mauritz
AB, Gap Inc, Puma SE and Levi Strauss
& Co visited Cambodia this week to tell the
government their buying would depend on stability, transparency
and the rule of law, according to IndustriALL Global Union, a
labour group based in Switzerland that attended the talks.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges convicted the
workers, trade unionists and protesters of intentional violence
including damage to public property during strikes in November
last year and January 2014.
They were given suspended jail terms of between one and
Cambodia's garment industry generated $5.3 billion in
revenue last year. The industry employs about 600,000 people and
strikes for higher pay and better working conditions have been
on the rise.
Cambodian military police opened fire with assault rifles on
Jan. 3 to quell a strike by garment factory workers demanding a
doubling of their monthly wage to $160. At least three people
The government increased the wage to $100 from $80 but
unions and workers have refused to accept it.
They have joined forces with the opposition Cambodia
National Rescue Party (CNRP), which has been protesting on and
off for months after claiming it won a general election last
July. The party of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen won
according to the election authority and he remains in power.
Levi's has cut its sourcing from Cambodia in the past year
due to concerns about political instability and human rights
violations in the country, the group said in an email to
"We reduced our sourcing in Cambodia to reduce supply chain
risk and ensure delivery. We hope to see swift progress on the
outstanding labour and human rights concerns so our sourcing can
return to previous levels," Levi's said.
Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, said in a
statement after the talks with the government: "For the first
time global brands have acknowledged that they are prepared to
cost in the price of higher salaries in Cambodia."
Ahead of the verdicts, Raina had said the companies and
unions were concerned about the fate of those appearing in court
and that Cambodia "was at risk of losing its status as a
strategic sourcing market, with an impact on future investment
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers
Association in Cambodia, said the minimum wage could not be
doubled and that it had to go up gradually for the industry to
survive. Exports had dropped 17 percent in the first three
months of the year compared with last year, he said.
"There is no country that can double wages," Ken Loo said,
adding that most international buyers had not agreed to pay more
to local factories to enable them to increase wages. "If we
increase by too much, factories close."
(Editing by Alan Raybould and Nick Macfie)