Yesterday, workers’ rights, anti-poverty, student groups and members of Brent Fightback joined together to condemn the Cambodian government’s violent repression of garment workers’ strikes that led to four people being shot and killed demanding an end to the repression, the recognition of unions’ right to strike and an increase in the minimum wage – the issue that sparked the workers’ protests.
The demonstration took place outside the Cambodian Embassy in Brondesbury Park.
The Cambodian garment workers’ strike began on 24 December, following a government announcement that the minimum wage would only rise by £9 to £60 a month, far short of workers’ demands for a living wage of £100 ($160) a month. The garment industry in Cambodia employs 700,000 people, 90% of whom are women, producing clothes for a huge range of UK high street companies, including H&M, Gap, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Levis, who profit from the workers’ low pay.
On 2 January police blocked the route of a workers’ march, then attacked workers, union organisers and bystanders. The following day armed forces fired live ammunition at workers, killing at least four people and injuring many more. 23 people, including a 17 year old, have been arrested, many of whom were severely beaten prior to arrest. Recent reports suggest they are being held in a notorious detention centre some distance from Phnom Penh.
The demonstration, organised by Labour Behind the Label, War on Want, People and Planet and the Asian TNC Monitoring Network took place as part of an international week of action, with protests staged outside Cambodian embassies in Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey and the USA.
War on Want campaigner Murray Worthy said “The violence and repression used against demonstrators by the Cambodian government is completely unjustifiable. Resorting to violence and repression of legitimate strikes and workers’ struggles can never be the answer; the government must end the violence, release those arrested and launch an immediate independent investigation into the police attacks and shootings.”
Sam Maher from Labour Behind the Label said “These strikes were the last resort for workers whose legitimate demands for a higher minimum wage have been consistently ignored by the employers and brands alike. Workers in Cambodian garment factories face economic violence on a daily basis and are prisoners of a system that they cannot escape. This violence must also end.”
Rob Abrams from People & Planet said “This crack down on organised labour is done in the name of so-called ‘progress’, to ‘free’ markets from external pressures, but in Cambodia we see what this means in practise. It means that workers demanding something entirely uncontroversial, a living wage that would afford them the basic right of living comfortably, are treated worse than criminals. All the while, the message coming from multinational companies remains the same undemocratic mantra: ‘if you treat your workers with respect, we see that as a burden on our profits, and we will move our operations to someplace else’. This is a flagrant disregard of human rights, one we will keep working to end. "
H&M, Gap, Marks and Spencer all have stores in the London Designer Outlet in Wembley and H&M have a distribution depot in North Wembley opposite the Bakerloo Line station.