The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has hit back against claims it condoned the use of lethal force by military police during recent strike protests in the country.

Association secretary-general Ken Loo was responding to a letter from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in Cambodia, the Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO).

In it, FIDH president Karim Lahidji called on GMAC to refrain from supporting “violent repression” of striking workers, to ask GMAC affiliates to withdraw lawsuits against trades unions who took part in the strikes, to ask for the reinstatement of suspended workers and to engage in “meaningful negotiations” over pay.

Four demonstrators were killed in the protests, which ended earlier this month.

But Loo wrote back that the strike which began on 25 December was “illegal” and orchestrated by six trades unions which represented only a minority of workers – the majority, he said, were happy with the recently announced minimum wage deal.

He added that the demonstrations had turned “increasingly violent”, leaving the Cambodian government with no alternative but to step in to maintain law and order.

“GMAC and all our members condemn the use of violence in any industrial dispute,” Loo wrote.

“The violence was started by the demonstrators and it had developed to a point where law enforcement agencies had to step in to restore law and order, and to prevent it from escalating and spreading further.

“If anything, we are the victims of this violence that the rioters had started.”

Loo expressed similar views in a separate letter addressed to a number of North American trade associations, including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the Canadian Apparel Federation, the National Retail Federation, the Retail Council of Canada, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the US Fashion Industry Association.

The organisations had written to Loo, the Cambodian government and trades unions expressing their concern over the violence, and calling for a negotiated minimum wage settlement.