Cambodian Apparel Workers Forced to Forage for Food
October 22, 2008
The attached article, from the leading English language newspaper in Cambodia, provides some sobering insight concerning apparel workers’ wages.
The article reports that many Cambodian garment workers are now foraging for food in order to survive on their minimum wage earnings. Apparel wages in Cambodia are $50 a month – less in real terms than a decade ago. The failure of factories to raise wages, combined with rising food costs, has forced many workers to resort to scrounging in the fields around the city in order to get by.
Cambodia is a significant producer of collegiate apparel, for licensees such as Nike, Reebok, Gear for Sports, VF, Jones & Mitchell, Ouray Sportswear, Russell Athletic, College Concepts, and Taylor Made/adidas Golf, among others (according to factory disclosure data).
I can’t think of a more powerful illustration of the inadequacy of minimum wage as a labor rights standard. The minimum wage policies of countries like Cambodia are far too unresponsive to the needs of workers to provide any meaningful assurance that they will be paid enough to feed, house and clothe themselves and their families. The Cambodian government undoubtedly believes that the sizable wage increase necessary to enable workers to purchase adequate food would be unacceptable to the garment industry, so they have pushed for only very modest wage increases – and even these have been resisted by factory owners.
This is why we believe we need a living wage or non-poverty wage standard – flexible enough to be adjusted in response to significant changes in cost of living and based on the principle that licensees should pay prices to their suppliers that are adequate to enable suppliers to comply. As you know, such a standard is part of the proposed Designated Suppliers Program.
We realize that the transition to a living wage poses challenges for the industry. However, circumstances like those we see today in Cambodia suggest that if we continue to rely on minimum or prevailing wage, we will continue to see cases of workers living in degradation while they sew university apparel.
I thought you would find the article of interest and I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts about it with you.