PHNOM PENH Cambodian garment workers went on strike on Monday at a factory producing clothing for global brands Gap, J.C. Penney (JCP.N) and Old Navy, demanding that the plant reinstates suspended trade union representatives.
Garment-making has been Cambodia's main manufacturing industry as it recovers from decades of conflict. Last year, the sector grew 28 percent and contributed more than $3 billion towards the country's $11 billion economy.
It employs 300,000 people, many of them women, at scores of factories, owned mostly by Chinese and Taiwanese companies but it has seen its share of industrial action over pay and conditions.
The president of the Workers Friendship Union Federation said the strike would go on until the South Korean-owned factory, Cambo Handsome Ltd, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, took back three union representatives suspended after one of them was accused of stealing two T-shirts.
The company should also withdraw what he called the trumped up charges against them.
"This is a plan by the company to remove union leaders who had advocated for better conditions," union president Sieng Sambath told Reuters.
He said about 1,000 workers were on strike but a representative of Cambo Handsome's parent company, Hansoll Textile, said only about 300 workers were out in front of the factory.
Van Rin, 31, one of the three suspended unionists, said the factory had singled him out because he was promoting workers' rights.
"Even when I went to the toilet, they followed me and took pictures, they warned workers not to talk to me and said they would not get a raise," Van Rin said.
The representative of Hansoll Textile denied that.
A representative of Cambo Handsome denied fabricating charges and said one of the unionists had been caught stealing T-shirts.
"The strike is illegal because they didn't inform the authorities," said the representative, who declined to be identified.
The representative confirmed that the plant produces garments for the Gap, JC Penny and Old Navy brands.
Cambodian factories also produce clothes for the likes of Nike Inc, Marks and Spencer Group PLC, Tesco PLC, H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB, Puma, Next Plc and Inditex.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Corrects to show that only one of the suspended workers was accused of theft and adds comment from company on number of strikers.