Cambodia, labor, garment, wage, Rebecca Henschke

Khat Samneang’s husband worked in factory that supplied the US brand Wal-mart.

He started working there when he was sixteen years old and earned around 3 US dollar a day.

In January when fellow workers took to the streets to demand a doubling of the minimum wage ….he decided to join them.

“The money is not enough…everything is going up so he joined the protest to get a raise for for our child… to live as normal people to live a normal life.”

A Cambodian government appointed commission had found that a livable minimum wage needed to be around 160 USD a month.

So when the government announced an increase well below that …. the reaction was immediate…

This footage was recorded by garment workers from their dorm rooms.

It shows police firing live ammunition directly at hundreds of workers who were blocking a road outside the Canadian Industrial Park area.

Rights activist Moses Ngyen takes me to the place where the killings took place…

“At that time this was like a battle field between the army and the workers…couple of people were shot dead and over 40 people were injured and taken to hospital.”

When Khat Samneang heard the news on the radio….she tried to call her husband.

She couldn’t get through. So she called to her brother in law.

“He told me that your husband was shot dead and I am on the way to take the body to the Russian hospital.  It was not till I saw the body of my husband that I believed it...My husband before he got shot and killed I know how much he pleaded for his life because I saw the photo where his hands are together in pray.”

Four other people were killed that day… and a 16-year-old boy is missing, believed dead.

23 others were arrests…. including senior union leader Vorn Pov.

His wife has repeatedly made applications for bail ….and they have been repeatedly denied.

“Why didn’t they release him so he can get medical care? It’s very unjust. Unjust!  Why? We need our family back together.”

Vorn Pov and the others have been charged with destroying public property and inciting violence.

The police say the protestors were anarchists who need to be chased out.

“Get out of the way. Do you want to make another war? They have given you peace? Today is peace…So you are looking for what!?”

There has been no investigation into why live bullets were use.

David Welsh is with the US labour rights group Solidarity Center—he meets regularly with the Cambodian government.

“The government is on record with me at least saying that as far as they are concerned not a dollar is going to be going to any of the families of the decreased. Or any of the injured….so to get any kind of compensation there is an ongoing process where brands will be asked to put a fund together.”

Ken Loo represents around 550 garment and footwear factories in Cambodia. He says they will be seeking NOT paying compensation to the victim’s families….

And say the industry lost millions of dollars because of the two weeks of protests.

“We are actually the ones who suffered in this whole incident. Who is seeking compensation for us? Buyers are not going to be giving us a cent.  It’s unfortunate that the women you spoke to lost her husband…but then was he part of the demonstration?

Q. He was striking for a better living wage. He said that he couldn’t live on 100 USD  and he thought that he would take the chance to as the ILO says to strike.  He took the right to strike and was killed.

“ has the right to strike peacefully. He has no right to engage in violence.”

Q. He did not engage in violence she says.

“Really? The whole protest engaged in violence.”

Q. He walked down the street?

“Why was he there? If I was a peacefully demonstrator you or me and I ended up in the area where there was violence and I see in front of me a few hundreds if not thousands of protestors and on the other hand if I see hundreds of anti-riot police and if I am not involved am I going stay there?  No I am going to get my arse home.”

The garment industry generates 5.5 billion dollars from 600 factories in Cambodia each year.

It accounts for well over 80 percent of the countries export GDP.

It is the single largest industry in the country.

But the Ken Loo says they can’t afford to raise wages in the factories --- because the brands-the buyers are not willing to paying them more….

“Investors are here to make money, investors are not here for charity. Investors are not here for good complicate. If we make money we stay here. If we don’t make money then very natural will look at leaving.”

But China, Vietnam and Indonesia all have a higher minimum wages than Cambodia.

Opposition politician Mu Sochua says the big brands also care about their image.

“The blood of the workers tainted on the t-shirts of GAP and on the shoes of puma and nike that is hurting these big brands. They don’t want to leave Cambodia in fact they put pressure on the government to find a solution.”

The Cambodian garment association says they will be able to pay 160 US dollars a month in five years time.  Unions say they are not willing to wait and will continue to fight.

But Khat Samneang’s who is now raising her daughter without a father is going to go back to her job in the factory working 3 dollars a day making clothes for global brands Gap and H and M.

“When my child can start eating and running…. I will take her to my mother and leave her and come back and start working in the factory to earn money for my child and when she grow up I want her to study a lot in Phnom Penh…so I want her to go to school and have the knowledge.”

 

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