Hanoi, Vietnam -- (SBWIRE) -- 09/10/2013 -- The twice yearly retail buyers’ forum takes place this week in Phnom Penh. Top retail stores from around the world are attending, companies such as H&M and Walmart are regular attendees. This year they are facing criticism over their inability to take more control in the working conditions for factory workers in Cambodia. Calls for a more hands on proactive stance are growing, especially since the building collapse at the Wing Star Shoes factory in Kampong Speu.
Mt David Walsh, country director of the Solidarity Centre/ACILS, said, “Unlike other years, there are more people watching. Generally, Western media paying attention to working conditions puts the pressure on them.”
The forum has been operating for three years and it presents an opportunity for workers, companies executives and government officials to express their points of view. The International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) who organize the forum have made it known that they will be making some direct changes to working practices in the Kingdom. They monitor and write reports on working conditions and the companies have a choice of whether or not to buy into the reports and implement change where suggested. However, over the course of the next few months BFC will start making these reports public. This is expected to put pressure on any businesses not complying.
Two workers were killed in the building collapse at the Wing Sat factory in May this year. The worldwide media spotlight that followed has highlighted many inadequacies in working conditions with Cambodia. H&M have already said they will be discussing the issues of building, electrical and fire safety at the forum. High profile demonstrations in the country and beyond have forced major companies to get involved.
The foreign exports of Cambodia have been doing well and retail clothing accounts for a huge percentage of an industry that is booming. This has not filtered down to the workers, whose pay and conditions has remain much the same. The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) has demanded a minimum wage and wants the wages paid in shoe and garment factories to rise from $75 per month, as it is now, to $147. From that point they are demanding 20% per year from 2014 until 2018. Vice president for C.CAWDU, Kong Athit said, “This year will be more interesting than the other years. We have to be more forceful with the buyers rather than the [factory] owners.”
Workers in the Cambodian provinces have been living in poverty for many years now and this is seen as a positive step in the development of the country. It is hoped that over time the whole country can rise its standards of living for everyone. As the whole world watches it will be interesting to see which direction the talks take.
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