In an unprecedented move, eight major fashion retailers have said they are prepared to pay more for clothes made in Cambodia. It follows a global day of action by unions in support of garment workers’ demands for a higher wage.
The brands, which include one of Cambodia’s biggest buyers, H&M, as well as Inditex (Zara) and Primark, have written to the Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Garments Manufacturers Association (GMAC) saying they are ready to factor higher wages into their pricing.
Furthermore, the brands, which also include Next, New Look, C&A, Tchibo and N Brown Group, say they want to see cooperation with trade unions in the workplace.
The letter, sent the day after the global day of action on 17 September, states:
“Our purchasing practices will enable the payment of a fair living wage and increased wages will be reflected in our FOB prices, taking also into account productivity and efficiency gains and the development of the skills of workers, carried out in cooperation with unions at workplace level.”
Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, said:
“We welcome this unparalleled letter in which the brands state their willingness to incorporate higher wages by paying more for garments. Factory owners have no excuse not to pay their workers more. What's more, the Cambodian government should raise the minimum wage significantly. The letter also shows the brands recognize that unions are key to securing better worker rights, a fair living wage and a stable market.
The letter also met with approval from Ath Thorn, president Cambodian garment, C.CAWDU, who stated: "The message from the brands is an important development. It is progress for Cambodian workers but it doesn't absolve the brands of their responsibility to take real action and negotiate directly with workers. We know from past experience that just a letter isn't strong enough - the brands must take additional action immediately to ensure a higher wage for Cambodian workers. To achieve long-term stability and decent wages, we need the ones who make the biggest profits to be accountable."
Ken Loo, GMAC’s secretary-general, said: “GMAC is pleased to receive this letter as this is the first official commitment that we are aware from any buyer committing to pay higher FOB prices to ensure that workers can be paid a fair living wage.”
However, Loo added that other brands needed to offer similar assurance.
The brands go on to warn that while they are committed to sourcing from Cambodia, they expect the government and employer’s association GMAC to resolve the current deadlock in labour relations.
“To support the forecast volumes, there is a requirement to see a positive attitude and support for the establishment of freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, fair living wages, stability and peaceful conflict resolution. This will then deliver the assurance and necessary trust in Cambodia to continue promoting the market as a strategic sourcing country.”
Thousands of garment workers donned orange T-shirts in their lunch hour to demonstrate outside factories on 17 September for an increase in the minimum wage from US$100 to US$177 per month. The action was supported by IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the ITUC. Scores of NGOs also supported and there were pickets at stores across the world.
On the same day, tri-partite discussions took place between the government, GMAC and unions. The Labour Advisory Committee, charged with determining the new minimum wage, is set to meet again on 26 September with a decision expected in early October.
IndustriALL has eight garment union affiliates in Cambodia.
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