HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS CRITICISE US GIANTS AFTER POLICE OPENED FIRE ON STRIKING WORKERS
By UMBERTO BACCHI | January 9, 2014, International Business Times, UK
US retailing giants Walmart and Nike have been slammed by rights groups for failing to condemn the use of deadly force by Cambodian police against striking garment workers at some of their suppliers.
Human rights activists in Cambodia were bitterly disappointed by the companies’ lack of action following the killing of at least five workers, who were shot dead last week by police in Phnom Penh while demonstrating for better wages.
"It’s so sad to see them [Walmart and Nike] being quiet. It’s time that both of them speak out," Tola Moeun, who heads the labour program at the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) told IBTimes UK.
"Those brands, I mean Nike and Walmart, their code of conduct maintains they respect the rights of association and collective bargaining and they make a lot of benefit from the workers," Moeun said.
"They should think of the reasons why people protest: to get a wage on which they can survive, not to become rich like Walmart or Nike."
At least 20 people were injured after police opened fire on protesters in a southern suburb of the capital last week.
They were striking to demand an increase in the minimum wage to $160 (£97) a month – double the current rate.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) dismissed the deaths as "collateral damage" and blamed the workers for their own demise. Part of the violence was documented in this video published by local rights group LICADHO. [Warning graphic
A number of Western clothing giants that purchase apparel from Cambodia wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen decrying the police brutality.
In the letter, Puma, H&M, Gap, Adidas, Inditex, Levi Strauss and Columbia also backed the development of a minimum wage review mechanism for garment workers. German sportswear colossus Puma separately acknowledged that at least one of the dead workers was employed by one of its suppliers and pledged to provide support to the family.
The UN human rights office (OHCHR) also said it was "deeply alarmed" by last week’s clashes.
"We urge the Cambodian authorities to launch a prompt and thorough investigation and to ensure full accountability of members of the security forces found to have used disproportionate and excessive force," said OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville.
Moeun said CLEC reached out at Nike and Walmart but received no reply. No one at the two companies was available for a comment as we published.
Workers Unions have asked their members to go back to work and most factories were open on Thursday.
The Unions are standing by their request of a $160 minimum wage and Moeun warned more protests might follow if all parties do not work to resolve the matter through peaceful negotiations.
"I’m not quite sure if the situation will remain calm when the workers get paid and they see their wage has been deducted [due to the strike]," Moeun said. "It might happen again."
A worker throws a petrol bomb after clashes broke out during a protest in Phnom Penh
Jeffery Hermanson, director for global strategies at Workers United, told IBTimes UK that $160 a-month was the minimum required to allow workers a decent, healthy living standard.
"The wages in Cambodia are so low as to guarantee that workers are going to be unhealthy," Hermanson told IBTimes UK.
Meanwhile a number of local companies have sued the unions over damages they claim the factories suffered from during the strike, the Cambodian Daily reported.
The detention of 23 protesters, including a number of union leaders and NGOs’ activists also threatened this week’s fragile calm.
The whereabouts of the 23 were unknown for days, also to lawyers and family members. It later emerged the prisoners had been taken to an isolated detention facility outside of Phnom Penh.
Moeun said relatives and lawyers arriving at the CC3 prison found military and police deployed outside.
"They did allow some in but not all and also the lawyers’ access to interview their clients was very strict," Moeun said.
The activist said it was essential that the 23 be released for wage negotiations to restart on the right track.
"All the brands sourcing from Cambodia, we need them to speak out; to tell all parties to stop violence and call for good, free negotiations," Moeun said "Cambodian garment workers have been suffering enough."
The garment workers’ protest represents a big political problem for the country’s prime minister Hun Sen.
Their struggle has been backed by the main opposition party, which has been separately urging the PM to end his 28-year rule over allegations of vote rigging at July’s elections.
Cambodia’s economy relies heavily on exports from the garment industry which employs some 500,000 people
SQ Hàn quốc chối bỏ phát ngôn về đã can thiệp
0 JANUARY 2014
South Korean Embassy Denies Role in Strike Suppression
By Denise Hruby – The Cambodia Daily, January 9, 2014
The South Korean Embassy on Wednesday denied a news report that it had lobbied Cambodian military authorities to “crack down on protesters” in a bid to shield Korean investments in the garment industry, prior to Friday’s killing of five protesters and the wounding of more than 40 others by military police officers.
A story published late Tuesday by the U.S.-based GlobalPost news service cited a statement by the South Korean Embassy—posted online in Korean—in which embassy staff allegedly said that they had asked the Cambodian military to “act swiftly” in protecting factories owned by their citizens.
According to GlobalPost, in the statement on Monday, “the South Korean Embassy took credit for convincing the Cambodian government to ‘understand the seriousness of this situation and act swiftly.’ It cited high-level lobbying over the past two weeks as contribution to the ‘success’ of protecting business interests.”
“As a practical measure, military forces and police have been cooperating closely with us to protect Korean companies since we visited the capital defense command headquarters with Korean businessmen to tell them about the situation,” GlobalPost wrote, quoting from the document.
“[A]s a result, to prevent any arson attempt or looting, military forces are directly guarding only Korean companies among many factories in the Canadia complex,” reads the statement, which was posted on an official Facebook page of the embassy.
GlobalPost added that South Korean Embassy staff had pushed their calls during meetings with Om Yentieng, chairman of the Human Rights Committee; Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and other officials.
A South Korean Embassy official on Wednesday said that they had simply done their duty by asking government officials to protect South Korean businesses, but that military action or violence against protesters had never been suggested.
“We received some reports from the Korean business community about possible labor unrests and their concern, so as a normal diplomatic function, we forward the concerns to Cambodian authorities….” Lee Hyunt-jong, minister counselor at the South Korean Embassy, said Wednesday.
“We request the Cambodian authorities to pay attention to the difficulties faced by Korean investors because of the labor unrest,” he said.
He added that on December 27, embassy staff had met with high-ranking officials, but that no action against garment workers was discussed.
Letters were sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as opposition leader Sam Rainsy, and included a general request to protect South Korean businesses, he added.
“We have made a general request, but never asked to take specific action. So we did not request military intervention,” he said, adding that the embassy statement was misinterpreted.
“We only made one contact [with
Cambodian military] last Saturday, after the crackdown, because we have some Korean companies in Canadia [Industrial] Park and they were really concerned about the situation,” Mr. Lee said.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, claimed that the government had not given special treatment to anyone in terms of security.
“We understand that members of foreign embassies in Cambodia made requests to protect their investment and their private property. The law prohibits us to do that,” he said, adding that all foreign investors were being treated equally.
However, one factory, the South Korean-owned Yakjin garment factory, did receive special treatment last Thursday when some 150 troops from the elite 911 paratrooper brigade deployed at the gates to the plant in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district.
Garment factory workers, union leaders and other activists were protesting outside Yakjin when the paratroopers’ baton-charged the crowd following a stone-throwing incident. The troops, armed with iron bars, batons, slingshots and whips fashioned from plastic pipe, brutally beat strikers, union leaders and journalists, detaining five monks and 10 others.
A picture taken of a 911 paratrooper at the scene of the violence clearly shows him wearing a South-Korean flag as an arm patch on his uniform. Such insignia often denotes when a Cambodian soldier has received training overseas.
The violence meted out by the paratroopers at Yakjin marked the first such incident of its kind over the week that the garment workers had been on strike, and was the first time that battlefield troops had been deployed on the streets of Phnom Penh to quell the strike.
Why the Yakjin factory received special protection from an elite unit of the military has yet to be explained by the government.
Mr. Siphan claimed Wednesday that the paratroopers came in support of the police, but eyewitnesses, including Cambodia Daily journalists, said the 911 soldiers were the only force deployed at the factory and there were no police in the vicinity of the plant before or after the violence by the troops.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)