PHNOM PENH – Cambodian garment workers will be paid wages and severance owed to them after two months of protest.
Just two days after 82 workers launched a hunger strike on the sidewalk in front of a Walmart supplier in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, companies that supply to Walmart and H&M agreed to pay workers about $200,000.
“We are just happy to win,” said 26-year-old Sor Sokthy. “We decided to go on hunger strike to show that we are not workers who can be pushed around. We are strong, committed, and united.”
For nearly two months as many as 200 garment workers have been sleeping on the street in front of the Kingsland factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Workers, who sewed underwear for Walmart and H&M suppliers, were owed $200,000 after the factory shuttered in December leaving workers without jobs, wages nor severance payment. Workers stayed in front of the factory to stop machinery and other assets from being removed before workers are fully paid in accordance with Cambodian law.
The victory comes after months of protest including support from international organizations and trade unions from 13 countries. In a statement issued in January, the international groups called on Walmart and H&M to intervene and ensure Kingsland owners pay all wages and indemnity and comply fully with Cambodian labor law.
In January community members delivered a letter addressed to Walmart’s Vice President of Ethical Sourcing Rajan Kamalanathan in Cambodia, Southern California and Korea calling for an immediate investigation and justice for 200 workers who earn an average of $60 a month.
Walmart did not respond to either the letter or the joint statement from international organizations prompting the hunger strike.
“Many of the already impoverished workers have been sleeping in front of the factory for the last two months,” said Tola Moeun of the Community Legal Education Center in Cambodia. “With no income for food, interrupted sleep and the great stress the situation has placed on them, their health is already a great concern. Today their spirit has been rewarded but we need to ensure that the money is in their hands as soon as possible. Now the struggle continues in hundreds of other Walmart factories in Cambodia.”
In the United States, Warehouse Workers United, Warehouse Workers for Justice and New Labor held peaceful protests Wednesday and Thursday to support the workers. At Walmart stores supporters are asking the megaretailer to take responsibility for the Cambodian workers who serve Walmart’s supply chain.
“We are all in the same fight, whether in Cambodia, Bangladesh, America, Mexico, or anywhere else,” said Mike Compton, a warehouse worker in Illinois who went on strike last year. “It’s time for Walmart to take responsibility for conditions in the factories, warehouses, stores, and everything else in their supply chain.”
Walmart boasts its own “Standards for Suppliers” that supposedly governs the behavior of its suppliers and contractors, but repeatedly contractors have been found in violation of these standards with no recourse for workers.
“Walmart boasts high standards for its suppliers, but nowhere in the world is the retail giant actually holding them accountable. In order to lift standards for all workers – whether they are in Cambodia or Chino, California – Walmart must enforce its “Standards for Suppliers” with real accountability and input from workers,” said Guadalupe Palma, director of Warehouse Workers United.
The dispute at Kingsland comes at a time of increased international attention on global brands’ role in poor wages and working conditions in the Asian garment industry. Human rights groups have also called for intervention by Walmart and other brands after a fire at a Bangladesh-based supplier last November left at least 112 workers dead.