Cambodia raised its minimum wage by 28% to $128 in January (Human Rights Watch)

Cambodia raised its minimum wage by 28% to $128 in January (Human Rights Watch)

A national campaign has launched in Cambodia to push multinational brands to pay suppliers a minimum wage of US$177m. 

The campaign, launched on Friday (20 November) and backed by unions and the Clean Clothes Campaign, marked the first day of a wave of international action, which calls for a Global Action Day on 10 December – International Human Rights Day. 

Cambodia raised its minimum wage by 28% to $128 in January, with another raise, to $140 per month, set to take effect from January 2016.

Athit Kong, vice president of independent Cambodia union C.CAWDU, said: "This increase of $12 does not reflect the real basic needs of the workers, especially in light of the enormous profits of multinational brands. It is clear that the only solution to poverty wages in the garment industry is genuine collective bargaining between brands, as the principle employers, and the garment unions. Workers have been organising for years for a living wage. We need $177 now."

Cambodian workers have been demanding an increase in the minimum wage to $177 since late 2013. In early January 2014, wage struggles escalated when police and military cracked down on wage protests and five people were murdered, 23 were arrested, and many others injured.

Brands such as Hennes & Mauritz and Adidas have made public statements in support of a living wage for workers in their supply chains. However, unions say the assertions "ring hollow" to workers who often work excessive overtime and still cannot provide for the basic needs of themselves and their families.  

"Brands sourcing from Cambodia cannot expect the women and men working in their factories to accept these bread crumbs," said Mirjam van Heugten of Clean Clothes Campaign. "The workers effectively slave themselves at factories, only for the brands to make huge profits. The targeted brands such as H&M and Inditex must put their leadership claims into practice by making sure all garment workers receive a living wage."

There have been concerns that rising wages could cause Cambodia's clothing and footwear sector to falter. However, data released earlier this month showed the country's garment sector performed "solidly" in the first half of this year, with garment and footwear exports reaching $3bn, a rise of 12.7% on the same period last year.

Wage rises fail to dent Cambodia garment sector growth