No More Excuses: Dignity for Cambodian workers

For decades, global fashion brands have made excuses to us about why they shouldn't pay a living wage. But its not a choice, its a pressing necessity. In Cambodia hundreds of female garment workers have been fainting en mass in factories which supply clothes to European retailers because they haven't had enough to eat, and are overworked. This is the shocking consequence of the fact that they are paid poverty wages.

We're joining with other Clean Clothes Campaigners across Europe to demand H&M, Gap, Levi's and Zara pay sweatshop workers in Cambodia enough to lift them out of poverty.

The facts
Over 80% of Cambodian garment workers are women, aged 18-35, with a majority being under 25. Many are married with children, or have sick families to support in the provinces. Families and children are a main consideration for these women when worrying about their wage. Many have to make daily choices between feeding themselves and educating their kids - a catch 22 which has led to workers not eating enough and taking on long overtime shifts to make up the deficit in their wage packets. The basic wages they are paid simply aren't enough.

In 2011 alone over 2400 workers fainted and were taken to hospital in 25 separate incidences. Unions say many more go unrecorded.

Calorie research was carried out by Bent Gehrt from the Workers' Rights Consortium in Cambodia earlier this year, which analysed the daily food intake afforded by an average factory worker. He found that workers are consistently facing a calorie deficit of over 500 kcal a day, and this on a lifestyle of physical labour. Many workers say that the food they can afford isn't nutritious or enough to support them.

Brands have been typically non-committal in their response to the problem. Many have said the faintings were related to glue or fumes from chemical processes. However, many incidences have occurred in well ventilated factories. Government officials have been forced to admit that the faintings are related to inadequate salaries, and that these have an effect on workers' nutrition and their ability to rest. Action needs to be taken now to increase wages.

What can be done?
We're working alongsides trade union C.CADWU in Cambodia, and activists around Europe, to demand that brands pay a living wage for workers so this can be brought to an end. Brands must sit down with local unions and suppliers to discuss living wage demands, (unions are demanding the minimum wage goes up from $75 to $150 US) and engage in dialogue on how to reach this better wage. Brands must also work with suppliers to increase supplementary allowances paid to workers, such as paying transportation or renting allowances of $15 USD; paying an attendance bonus (currently $7 USD) of $12 USD; providing breakfast, lunch & dinner allowances of $1.5 USD/day. A clear plan for wages reaching a living wage level (currently $283 in Cambodia) is also a must.

Take action
You can get involved in this by sending an action email, or joining our flash 'faint ins' in highstreet stores. Contact anna at labourbehindthelabel.org for more details.

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