Global brands and retailers sourcing from Cambodia are being urged to speak up over the drafting of a controversial new trade union law by the country's government, which labour groups say is not in compliance with International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions.

The new Trade Union Law is aimed at regulating the Kingdom's 3,400 trade unions and is expected to be passed by the National Assembly next month, despite concerns that it imposes a host of restrictions on trade unions which would severely curtail workers' rights to union representation.

Cambodia approves draft union law amid criticism

In an open letter to all brands who buy from Cambodia, the Clean Clothes Campaign along with 36 other worker rights groups calls on companies such as H&M, Levi Strauss, M&S and Primark to publicly support freedom of association and independent unions in Cambodia. It asks them to widely disseminate a public support statement for a Trade Union Law which fully complies with ILO Conventions 87 and 98 as a condition for future sourcing from the country.

"Based on the recommended amendments of the Joint Committee formed to review the draft law, articles and provisions that infringe freedom of association and trade union autonomy are maintained in the final draft bill," the letter reads. "A number of trade unions and human rights organisations have approached the Cambodian Government with their concerns and recommendations to the law."

Brands, however, remain silent on the issue, the letter states. And letters to the government from the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), of which many are signatories, remain unpublished.

"We, the signatories of this statement, strongly urge that you, as influential brands sourcing from Cambodia, publicly support freedom of association and independent unions in Cambodia," the letter reads. "Such a statement from your side will show that you take your due diligence responsibility seriously and would be a clear signal to the Cambodian Government to ensure the basic rights of unions and their members."

The labour groups urge brands to take the opportunity to have an input into the Trade Union Law, which they say will "rebuild international and domestic confidence" in the country's industrial relations.

"We are positive about the outcome of this process with your swift and public response on the draft Trade Union Law and look forward to reading you statement," they conclude.