Wages in Cambodia are extremely low, which is why the international textile industry outsources the production of huge quantities of clothing and shoes there. Hundreds of thousands of people now work in this sector. Working conditions are often very poor. Solidar Suisse provides legal and negotiation training so that workers can defend their rights.
Sewing on a piece work basis
Cambodia is one of the largest textile production centres in the world. There is huge pressure for goods to be produced as fast as possible – and workers pay the price. Their wages are low, working hours are long and they rarely enjoy secure employment. Many workers suffer from anaemia caused by malnutrition. Independent unions try to support and organise workers, but this is difficult because organisations’ work is restricted by the state.
The situation will only improve when workers are able to defend their rights. We cooperate with the independent textile union C.CAWDU and the NGO Central to achieve this. Independent organisations are important, because workers only have a say in national negotiations on wages when large numbers of workers are organised within an independent union.
Our partner organisations provide legal support, train workers in labour law and accompany them to court. In addition, textile workers learn how they can make use of the International Labour Organization’s “Better Factories Cambodia” database, which collects facts on the conditions in textile factories.
Training provided by our partner enables workers to learn how to document the often appalling conditions in their factories – through photos, videos and witness statements. If they are able to provide concrete evidence that the minimum wage is not being paid; piecework wages are too low; there is no drinking water or that production targets are unrealistically high, then they achieve far better results when negotiating with employers.
This project brought out findings about the Better Factories Cambodia database and its accessibility for workers (see link below to the report on phase 1 of the project). It was found, that although the data is comprehensive, there is a lack of participation and inclusion of workers. It was further observed that BFC data does not always fully reflect the reality of the working conditions.
Pressure on the ILO’s Better Work Programme
An exchange with trade unions in Indonesia, where there is a similar data portal under the ILO Better Work Programme, showed that the same issues were found. As a result, trade unions from both countries developed a Joint Statement on Better Work Transparency Data, which was shared with Better Work, based in Geneva, at the end of September 2021.
The joint statement lists four areas where the Better Work Programme should be improved:
The inclusion and participation of workers and unions in the creation of Better Work data needs to be adequately ensured.
The data published in the online portals needs to sufficiently capture all the issues that workers would like to have addressed.
As it was found that the data itself is sometimes inaccurate and does not represent the experience of workers in the factories, Better Work is requested to ensure that feedback from the trade unions on the findings is also invited and published on the portals.
As workers’ accessibility to the databases is compromised by literacy and technological barriers, their needs must be taken into account better in the redesign of the data portals.
The project is supported by the Laudes Foundation.
«The trade unions note that they can negotiate more effectively when they support their arguments with evidence from the factories. In training sessions, they learn how to document problematic incidents, where possible with photos and videos and by producing witnesses.»
After long struggles, the minimum wage was increased to $192 per month, almost double the 2014 level. Four collective agreements have been signed in the last two years. And in two factories, more than 10,000 workers now receive their wages also when they are sick.
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