The Cambodian Government has defended the garment factory accused by the BBC's Panorama team of using child labour and has asked Nike and Gap to think again about pulling their business out of the factory.

The decision to cancel orders at June Textiles could result in the loss of up to 3,000 jobs, according to the Cambodian Union Federation.

The Ministry of Labour says that it has investigated the girl's age, who claimed to the BBC that she was just 14, and has determined that she is actually 18-years-old. Huot Chanthy, the acting director of labour inspections, said the ministry had authenticated papers showing that the girl, called Sun Thyda, was 18. He said that Nike was now reconsidering whether to cancel the orders or not.

Government accused of a cover-up
Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers, immediately accused the government of a cover-up: "The BBC interviewed this girl in August and saw the family book that said she was 14. Now a new book says she is 18."

Rival union, the Cambodian Union Federation, has taken the government line and is threatening to sue the BBC for misinformation if the programme is broadcast: "We cannot accept the BBC report because they have false information - (Sun Thyda) is 18, not 14," Chuon Mom Thol, president of the Cambodian Union Federation, told a joint news conference with the Cambodia Federation of Independent Trade Unions (CFITU).

"I will file a lawsuit against the BBC if they broadcast this story," he said.

The BBC is unrepentant and intends to broadcast the offending programme on October 15. "Let them sue. We stand by the Panorama programme," said Jennifer Press, BBC publicity manager. The Panorama team had seen SunThyda's birth documents, which showed that the girl was 12-years-old. "There is no way she is 18," Jennifer Press concluded.

Monitoring systems 'do not work'
Yvonne Iwaniuk, director of corporate communication for Nike, confirmed that the sportswear giant was pulling out of June Textiles: "We will leave the factory on completion of our current order."

Last week, Ms Iwaniuk told Reuters that Nike was pulling its contract with June Textiles because of the child labour allegations, this week however, she said the factory's excessive use of overtime was at fault. The company had already been put on probation because of the overtime issue, she said.

She added that Nike had co-operated fully with the BBC team and was concerned that interviewees had been paid for their stories. "The BBC should be careful to base all its allegations on fact," she said.

Nike had sufficient monitoring systems in place at its offshore factories, she continued. Inspectors were on site every day and auditors, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, conducted in-depth assessments of labour conditions every few months.

The BBC's Jennifer Press said that Nike's monitoring systems were not working as well as the company thought they were. "We're not saying they're not working at all, just that they're not working all of the time," she concluded.

Child labour concerns
Fiona King, advisor on corporate responsibility for UK charity Save The Children, is concerned that the central theme of the row - under age labour - will get lost in the PR and media spin.

"Child labour is an extremely emotive subject. It is one of the worst things that a company can be accused of. A company's usual response is to pull out of the factory concerned, but what happens to the underage workers then? Who cares about them?" said Ms King, who was also interviewed on the offending Panorama programme.

She said that most corporations are not contributing to the solution: "The issue that needs to be examined is not the factories that employ child workers, but why children need to work."