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Here’s What You Need to Know About Cambodia’s Violent Garment Industry Protests

Image: Getty

Image: Getty

Garment factories in Cambodia's capital resumed operations today after a two-week long strike turned violent this weekend, resulting in the deaths of at least four apparel workers and countless injuries.

Military police opened fire on protesters striking to raise the national minimum wage to $160 a month. Over the past year, the government made several increases to the minimum wage, bringing it from $60 to $100, which is a significant improvement but still far below the living wage ($177 a month, as determined in research conducted by the country's largest non-government union).

Cambodia's garment industry is growing 20-30% a year and accounts for 80% of the country's exports. 

Here's some of the best reporting on this weekend's events: 

Industry Still on Edge After Deadly Violence in CambodiaWWD

"Angered by the authorities’ use of force the day before, workers on Friday retaliated by throwing Molotov cocktails at the security forces gathered there, burning tires and flinging rocks to damage the factories. Eyewitness accounts said the military police then fired live ammunition and started pummeling protesters.

…Swedish clothing giant H&M — which sources from more than 30 factories in the country — condemned Friday’s violence and urged that unions and manufacturers continue wage negotiations."

Cambodia: garment workers increase pressure for higher wages Christian Science Monitor

"With overtime and weekend work, Ms. Maordy can make up to $130 a month at the factory, which makes jeans and T-shirts for a retailer in Canada — well above $80, which until recently was the legally mandated minimum wage. The problem is that wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. Rent is up, and the price of groceries has risen considerably in the past month, ever since the government started enforcing certain import duties. Yellow noodles cost more. So do lemons, sugar, and chili peppers.

'I borrow the money from people almost every month, especially towards the end of the month,' she says.

That’s at the heart of the labor dispute that sent tens of thousands of garment workers out on strike last week, shuttering scores of factories, hamstringing an important part of Cambodia’s economy, and challenging well-connected foreign clothing manufacturers, many of whom supply goods for global brands like H&M, Nike, Asics, Gap, and Adidas."

Cambodia Reverts to Harsh Approach in Protest CrackdownWall Street Journal

"The People's Party realized that the protests posed 'a terrible, unprecedented threat to them. …It's a matter of survival' for the ruling party, Mr. Rainsy said. 'Once they have contained [the protests], at least on a temporary basis, then they will turn to the negotiating table.'

Government officials, however, denied any partisan political motivations behind its security operations last week. Of Friday's shootings, police said they used deadly force only after protesters threw rocks at officers, though witnesses said the demonstration was peaceful before the police moved in."

Cambodian Forces Open Fire as Factory Strikes Turn Violent — Reuters

"The strikes and protests represent a rare challenge to the 28-year rule of Hun Sen, who has been credited with attracting investment and creating jobs in the once failed state scarred by war and the bloody 1970s Khmer Rouge era.

He has also earned a reputation for being intolerant of opposition and rights groups have said abuses are common."


Related: U.S. Flouts Its Own Advice in Procuring Overseas ClothingThe New York Times

"At Zongtex Garment Manufacturing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which makes clothes sold by the Army and Air Force, an audit conducted this year found nearly two dozen under-age workers, some as young as 15. Several of them described in interviews with The New York Times how they were instructed to hide from inspectors.

'Sometimes people soil themselves at their sewing machines,' one worker said, because of restrictions on bathroom breaks."

Previously: 5 Things to Read About the Tragic Bangladeshi Garment Factory Fire