Talks between major apparel brands, global trade unions and the Cambodian government earlier this week to discuss ongoing concerns about the country's garment industry have made "tentative steps" it emerged yesterday (20 February).

The delegation, which included representatives from H&M, Inditex, Gap, C&A and Puma, met with senior officials to address a number of ongoing issues following police violence earlier this year that left four workers dead.

Also on the agenda were minimum wage reform, trade union legislation and the fate of 21 imprisoned workers detained following the demonstrations in January.

The meeting in Phnom Penh was hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, with several ministers including the Ministers of Labour and Commerce and other senior government officials present.

"There was some indication of what the government intends to do over the coming period, and there was a commitment of continuing the discussions with the brands and the global unions," explained IndustriAll's general secretary Jyrki Raina.

But he cautioned: "However, we cannot underestimate the challenges that lie ahead."

"The meeting in Phnom Penh is a step towards constructive dialogue aiming for a sustainable garment industry in Cambodia," added Steve Benedict, ITUC's human and trade union rights director. "This includes a continued minimum wage reform and freedom of association."

But while buyers are seeking a peaceful resolution to ongoing unrest, Cambodian labour unions are calling for a nationwide strike in mid-March, as disputes over garment industry wages and government crackdowns on protesters continue.

Workers in the garment and footwear industries have been seeking an immediate raise in their minimum wage to US$160 per month. In December, Cambodia's labour ministry agreed to raise the minimum wage from US$80 to US$100 in 2014, with yearly increases reaching US$160 in 2018.

Garment unions rejected the proposal, and worker protests turned deadly in early January as five people were killed and at least 20 were injured when security forces opened fire on protesters at Canadia industrial park in south-western Phnom Penh. 

The violent crackdown has been repeatedly criticised by global brands and retailers sourcing garments from Cambodia.