Garment factory owners in Cambodia have rejected claims that they are violating workers’ rights by pursuing legal action against union leaders linked to protests last year.

The US-based Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) claimed Cambodian factory owners were "violating freedom of association by pursuing baseless criminal prosecution of garment worker leaders".

This, the group said, amounted to a "serious violation" of the rights of the workers involved, and more generally of Cambodian garment workers as a whole.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) said it and its members had "repeatedly and in good faith" acknowledged the rights to freedom of association – when it was peaceful and in accordance with the law.

But it added that the protests in January 2014 showed that some unions were operating outside the law by organising violent demonstrations, leaving them open to legal action from GMAC members.

"By issuing such a letter which grossly ignores all the facts, WRC is imposing inappropriate pressure on the international brands and retailers sourcing from Cambodia," GMAC said.

The organisation also rejected claims that it or factory owners were influencing the judiciary who were considering the cases.