Among the labour rights abuses highlighed were forced overtime

Among the labour rights abuses highlighed were forced overtime

UK retailer Marks & Spencer and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) have disputed the details of a report alleging labour rights abuses are still rife in the country's garment factories, with both claiming they are committed to providing and supporting safe working conditions. 

In its “Work Faster or Get Out: Labor rights abuses in Cambodia’s garment industry” report, pressure group Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses Western brands of failing to protect and promote workers’ rights at both direct and indirect suppliers in their supply chains.

Among the issues highlighted were “common” labour rights abuses, including discrimination against pregnant workers, forced overtime and retaliation against those who refuse overtime, and unfair treatment of union workers.

As well as interviewing more than 340 people, including 270 garment workers from 73 factories in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and nearby province, HRW also spoke to union leaders, government officials, labour rights advocates, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), and representatives of international apparel brands.

Further issues include the use of short-term contracts over a long timescale. Following the report, H&M has revealed it will impose stricter requirements on the use of short-term, fixed duration contracts for workers at its supplier factories after acknowledging their use restricts worker rights.

When contacted by just-style, M&S said it was approached by Human Rights Watch (HRW), and provided a response to them. However, the retailer added: “We have not been presented with any evidence to support these claims. If Human Rights Watch comes to us with any evidence we will, of course, investigate.”

M&S explained that all of its suppliers must adhere to its strict ethical standards, including providing good working conditions, freedom of association, treating workers with respect, limits on overtime and paying fair rates of pay. It added that its supplier factories are audited regularly by third party, independent auditors and are visited by M&S compliance managers.

Meanwhile, GMAC said it was disappointed with the report, but noted that its findings “do not present” a full picture of the situation regarding workers' rights in the country's garment industry.

“The violations highlighted in the report are clearly the exception in our industry rather than the norm,” it added. “To suggest that workers' rights are being abused in a systematic manner in the garment industry, based on such a small sampling, is a leap of logic that defies the reality on the ground.”

According to GMAC, wildcat strikes, staged in direct violation of the procedures set out in the labour law have “plagued” the industry and continue to impact on worker rights.

With that, it added: “GMAC is committed to working with all stakeholders, from the government to the unions to officials from Better Factories Cambodia, to ensure our factories offer fair employment that allows our workers to work with dignity, and under the rule of law to improve their welfare and that of their families.”

IndustriAll Global Union, meanwhile, described the report as “further evidence that so-called corporate social responsibility practices, which only serve to polish brands' reputations, are failing to prevent abuse of workers”.

Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriAll, added: “New approaches are urgently needed and IndustriAll is working hard to make the global garment industry safe and sustainable. The HRW report shows we still have a long way to go.”