03/13/2015, 00.00
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Textile workers in Cambodia "victims of systematic abuse, violence and exploitation"

Denounced by Human Rights Watch. Women subjected to episodes of sexual abuse and mistreatment. Appeal to the government and major international brands to protect workers. 700 thousand people are employed in the manufacturing industry, with a volume of exports amounted to 5.3 billion dollars.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Cambodian government and international clothing brands must do more to protect workers from the abuses of the textile industry, including discrimination and exhausting shifts with working hours well over the limit.

These are the requests of Human Rights Watch (HRW) activists, who report that many factories - in violation of the law - us fixed term contracts to avoid paying workers social contributions and to be able to fire them without any legal constraints. Moreover, in the industries employing female workers there are frequent cases of sexual violence and verbal abuse.

In a recently published report entitled "Work Faster or Get Out" activists are calling on the Phnom Penh executive and clothing companies worldwide to apply labor laws more rigorously and put an end to abuses. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch reports that " Cambodian women working in the garment industry face a daily onslaught of harassment and abuse, and when they try to defend their rights by forming a union, they often get fired".

The increase in wages and rising inflation in China in recent decades have led to an exodus in the production of cheap clothing, to countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. These are countries where labor and safety laws are often not enforced or are disregarded without the danger of incurring penalties.

In addition, major international brands - such as Zara's Inditex SA and H&M's Hennes & Mauritz AB' - have often put pressure on local producers, to accelerate the pace of production.

Cambodia's garment industry, which employs an estimated 700 thousand people and exported .3 billion of apparel and shoes in 2013, was thrust into the spotlight in January 2014 when police and soldiers cracked down on workers protesting for a higher minimum wage, killing at least five people. The year before, a shoe factory collapsed, killing at least two workers.

The garment industry has been one of the key drivers of the Cambodian economy, which the World Bank forecasts will expand 7.5 percent this year, the fastest pace in all of East Asia. The Human Rights Watch report, released in Phnom Penh, was based on more than 340 interviews with garment workers from 73 factories, union leaders, labor rights activists, government officials and representatives of the local clothing industry and international brands.

Ku Kam Rein, 32, a former textile employee states that "we had to work hard, even though we were exhausted." The woman left in the fifth month of pregnancy, because "I couldn't go for any health checks. I didn't have any time to go. We had targets to meet. And I was too scared to ask for permission". Moreover, there are confirmed cases of child labor. Although the minimum age to work is 15, at least 11 factories have under-age workers, hidden in a hurry at the arrival of inspectors. And the condition worsens in small companies that take over contracts signed by other larger companies, including those that furnish known international brands.

The brands have a key role in promoting and respecting the rights of workers, said the HRW report. "But a combination of poor supply chain transparency, absence of whistle-blower protection, and no information on available support mechanisms -- together with a lack of support for remedial measures to protect worker interests in unauthorized subcontractor factories -- hamper brand accountability" .



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