A Cambodian garment worker joins a rally demanding a monthly wage of $160 (Photo credit: LICADHO)

A Cambodian garment worker joins a rally demanding a monthly wage of $160 (Photo credit: LICADHO)

Labour rights groups and trade unions are calling on global clothing brands to support a rise in the minimum wage for Cambodian garment workers, and to look at the long-term implications of their purchasing practices.

The groups have spoken out after a dispute over minimum wage increases led to the deaths of at least four people last week. The two-week garment worker strike in Cambodia came to an end on Monday (6 January).

In the closing stages of the unrest, seven brands - H&M, Gap, Inditex, Adidas, Puma, Levi Strauss & Co and Columbia Sportswear - wrote an open letter to the Cambodian government, manufacturers and trade unions expressing their concerns over the recent violence.

But labour rights groups say the letter did not go far enough.

In particular they want apparel brands and retailers to state publicly that any future orders in Cambodia depend on an immediate end to violence against workers and the release of all detainees without charge.

They are also being urged to pay fair prices to factories, and to support workers' calls for the minimum wage to double from US$80 to US$160 immediately. The government has proposed a wage rise to US$100 per month, with additional increments over the next five years.

A commitment to maintaining buying volumes from Cambodia if wages were to rise is also being sought.

"Until brands recognise that [their] practices contribute to the poverty wages received by workers in Cambodia, and in turn the demonstrations we are witnessing, then no brand sourcing from Cambodia can claim to be acting fairly or decently," said Jeroen Merk of the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Cambodia's garment industry employs over 500,000 people, is responsible for around 95% of Cambodia's export industry, and is worth EUR3.38bn (US$4.6bn) a year.

Groups calling for change include Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Worker Rights Consortium, Maquila Solidarity Network, United Students Against Sweatshops, International Union League for Brand Responsibility, Workers United, SEIU, Framtiden i våre hender, and CNV Internationaal, The Netherlands.

A separate statement from UNI Global Union's general secretary, Philip Jennings, said: "The global brands with connections to these Cambodian factories have a responsibility to raise standards. We've seen with the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord that a sea-change is possible."

Criticism has also been levelled at the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia (GMAC) for threating to move production if labour unrest was not quashed and appearing to condone the government's use of force against the protestors.

Campaigners are also staging a week of action, with protests taking place outside Cambodian embassies in Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, the UK and the United States.

They are demanding an end to repression, the recognition of unions' right to strike, and an increase in the minimum wage.