Blog: Leonie BarrieCambodia's conundrum

Leonie Barrie | 9 May 2007

Cambodia’s clothing manufacturers are caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they fear the country’s high overheads and wages make it difficult to compete with cheaper countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. On the other, though, there is also a danger that labour disputes could damage investment and dissuade retailers and importers from doing business with the country’s garment industry.

The sector has recently been hit by attacks on labour leaders, including the murders of three union bosses, which has prompted complaints from several international companies doing business in Cambodia, including Eddie Bauer, Gap, Hennes & Mauritz, Liz Claiborne and Phillips-Van Heusen. They say they are concerned about “what appears to be a pattern of violence against union leaders in the country,” and that a “swift, just and transparent” investigation will ensure “a stable business environment for us to continue to source our products.”

The companies were reacting to the February assassination of Hu Vuthy, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) as he left the Suntex garment factory. Hy Vuthy is the third FTUWKC official to be assassinated in three years. Chea Vichea, the union's president, was shot dead in January 2004 by two men on a motorbike. In May 2004 Ros Sovannarith, the FTUWKC president at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was similarly murdered by two men on a motorbike. In addition, Hy Vuthy's murder comes after at least five violent attacks in 2006 against FTUWKC officials at Suntex and the neighboring Bright Sky factory, also owned by Ocean Sky.

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