Garment workers in Cambodia fighting against super-exploitation by multinationals

Thousands of striking garment workers in Cambodia have been struggling for months for decent wages and working conditions. Cambodia is one of the countries which supply some of the biggest branded retail store chains in Europe and America. Conditions have been so bad in the garment factories in Cambodia that it has been recorded that more than 4000 workers have fainted at the workplace in the last 3 years alone – something that the International Labor Organization (ILO) has attributed to malnutrition and exhaustion widely prevalent among the workforce, 90% of whom are women who are the main breadwinners of their families.

On January 3, police shot dead 5 protestors during a demonstration of garment workers and their supporters. Police armed with AK-47 assault rifles rained bullets on the whole area. Even an apartment building housing garment workers was littered with bullet marks and shells. Fighting continued for some time even afterwards.

As part of globalization of production, big multinationals have been shifting their production bases to countries where human and other resources come cheapest, and the workers are deprived of all rights. This has enabled such multinationals to make maximum profits through the superexploitation of workers. The governments in these countries facilitate this exploitation of their own peoples by the multinationals, in the name of "development". In this way, countries like Cambodia, India and Bangladesh, where last year a ghastly accident in the Rana Plaza in Dhaka resulted in the deaths of thousands of workers, have become the source of cheap products for the big imperialist chains like Walmart, H & M, Adidas and GAP, among many others.

Conditions in the garment sweatshops in Cambodia are medieval in nature. The minimum wages in Cambodia are less than half of what it takes for a worker to merely survive. Children as young as 13 years old also toil in these sweatshops for 16 hours a day. 80-90% of the workforce is on short-term contracts. The buildings are poorly ventilated, resulting in severe health problems. They are also badly constructed and dangerous. As happened with the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, in Cambodia too buildings housing sweatshops producing for export have collapsed, resulting in deaths and injuries to workers. The authorities use the police to ensure that workers do not protest. In fact, a strike of more than 4000 workers in SL factory last August was triggered by the stationing of armed military police inside the factory.

The big multinationals that source their products from such factories are fully aware of these conditions. Strikes and protests by the garment workers in Cambodia have been going on for a long time. The abuse of workers in the sweatshops there has been highlighted by many international agencies. In order to fool the working class in their home countries, these multinationals pretend to be very concerned about ensuring safe, secure and healthy working conditions for the workers in the countries where they have outsourced production to. For instance, there is a 1999 agreement opening the US market to garments and textiles manufactured in Cambodia, that stipulates that working conditions should be of a certain standard and that they should be continually monitored. This agreement is obviously not meant to be implemented, as the ground reality of working conditions in Cambodia show.

It has been reported that the revenues of the big monopolies H&M, GAP, Walmart, and Adidas in 2012 were an amount almost 43 times Cambodia’s entire GDP. These revenues are derived from nothing less than the blood of Cambodia’s workers.

It is important that the working class in each country and worldwide organises to fight this sinister chain of exploitation that starts from the biggest global capitalist monopolies and is responsible for the barbarous treatment of workers in medieval sweatshops.


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