MATALAN IS ROBBING CAMBODIAN FAMILIES of their income
Matalan uses family values to sell their products but pays no attention to the families in its own supply chain. The hypocrisy is glaring.
When Ung Chanthoeun found that the factory she had worked at for 17 years had closed in July 2020 during the pandemic, it was a devastating blow. She said, “When I heard that Violet closed, I felt like I lost everything I ever thought possible. It’s hard to get money for my child’s schooling or to pay the bank, or for medical treatment when my family is sick.”
Virtually every worker has a family that depends on her income. Stealing compensation from workers is stealing from families.
Chanthoeun’s story is not unique. When the Violet Apparel factory, owned by Ramatex, closed over eighteen months ago, 1,200 workers were left without jobs. The workers are owed $343.174 in unpaid compensation. Including damages that they are legally entitled to, this figure goes up to $1.4 million. Matalan was one of Violet Apparels biggest buyers. Both Matalan and Ramatex can afford to pay the workers what they are owed. Matalan’s operating profit increased by 371% from £7.4m to £34.8m in the third quarter of 2021 alone. Despite these profits, both companies are failing the workers who have stitched their clothes.
The compensation is critical to Cambodian garment workers, who in 2020, were only paid a basic wage of $192 per month. To put this into perspective, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance estimates the living wage in Cambodia to be $588 per month. This means that workers like Chanthoeun, had no realistic way to save for a crisis like Coronavirus, or sudden job loss due to factory closure – it was already a challenge to survive on such low wages from day to day. The compensation owed to Ramatex workers like Chanthoeun is crucial, it is a lifeline for workers to support themselves and their families.
For years Matalan has positioned itself as a modern family brand. The brand itself says that “Matalan takes time to listen, understand and evolve to fit changing modern family needs…” However, withholding compensation from the 1,200 workers like Chanthoeun not only harms the workers, but cuts children and families off from the income they rely on.
Many Ramatex workers are having to make difficult decisions, as they struggle to cover basic living costs. Keo Chenda, former union vice-president at Violet Apparel says, “My life at the moment is quite miserable. Back then when I had a job I made money to support my family. Now I only work as a daily wage worker, earning $1 per hour. It’s not a fulltime and regular job. My children are two and five years old. I have to pay for the bills of the children every month and my income is just not enough.”
Although the Ramatex workers are not direct employees of Matalan, the brand has a responsibility to ensure that workers in their supply chain are paid what they are owed. For decades, big brands like Matalan have adopted aggressive purchasing practices, which push wages down and incentivise the erosion of labour rights. The exploitation of workers around the world, is directly linked to how big brands buy from their suppliers. Cheap labour and poor working conditions mean that brands like Matalan can sell clothes at bargain prices, and keep their profits at the top of the supply chain. Matalan is complicit in the sustained underpayment and exploitation of workers, now it must step in to ensure that workers receive their legal entitlements.
It is time for Matalan to put its family values into practice and make sure that Cambodian workers are paid what they are owed. As former Ramatex worker Oeun Kunthea says, “I expect Matalan to intervene and make sure I get the full compensation. With that money I can start a small business so I can support myself and my family.
We are calling on Matalan to put their family values into action and ensure that Ramatex pays the Violet Apparel workers full compensation without delay.