Photo Credits: Voice of Democracy, Heather Stilwell and Oudom Tat
Workers at a garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia have spent the past several days on a 24-hour vigil in front of Kingsland Garment in the capital city’s garment district. They say managers of an underwear supplier to retail giants Walmart and H&M shuttered the factory and fled while still owing workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and benefits.
Workers are maintaining a camp in front of the factory in hopes of catching managers if they return to take machinery and equipment out of the factory.
Workers are suffering now.
After the factory abruptly closed, many workers have been evicted from their homes because they cannot pay their rent. Workers believe that the factory closed with plans to reopen once it sheds long-time employees who have seniority and benefits.
They say the new factory will be similar to other Walmart suppliers internationally and domestically that rely on temporary workers who will work on 3-month, short-term contracts. Such a scheme will prevent workers from forming a union or having any job security.
Workers say they are owed a combined $800,000 in severance pay since the factory closed Dec. 29. Cambodian law requires a certain amount of severance for workers, but the company is offering less than half.
International organizations, Warehouse Workers United and others are calling on Walmart and other retailers to force the garment factory owners to make appropriate severance payments now before workers are further harmed.
Voices from the Workers
Since September, the women at the factory, known as Kingsland, are making half their previous salary or about $40 a month.
Worked at the factory for 5 years
“It’s been so difficult to feed my family. I can’t afford enough food because it’s so expensive, and I’ve had to borrow so much money. I owe money to my landlord and he keeps threatening to evict me.
“We want Walmart and the government to find a proper solution according to the law. Workers are victims here. It’s so hard to live without proper pay.”
When the factory was open that they were forced to work overtime making underwear for Walmart…
Worked at the factory for 13 years
“I came here to join the protest because I can’t stand what the owner of factory has done by shutting down the factory and only giving us $46 for each year we worked in severance pay.
“We just want to be compensated according to the law. Some of us have been here 10 or 15 years. The factory isn’t thinking about the workers. We want the owner and Walmart to take responsibility for this.
“About 180 workers join us every day and at night 30 or 40 workers sleeping in front of the factory gate because we afraid are afraid they will come to take the equipment out.”
Worked at the factory for 8 years
Worked at the factory for 7 years
Former Worker“I worked here for 3 months in 2008. They have lots of problems in this factory. It’s hard to take leave when we are busy or sick. They deny us so we just go to work even though we were sick. Sometimes we have to leave without permission and when we go back to work we face blame. We were always afraid of losing our job at that time. Inside the factory it was very hot and the bathroom was very dirty and not enough air. Back then there was a lot of fainting.”