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Illegitimate Criminal Conviction of Union Leaders in Cambodia

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To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Vincent DeLaurentis
Date:March 7, 2019
Re:Illegitimate Criminal Conviction of Union Leaders in Cambodia

I am writing to share this memo detailing an important update on a legal case in Cambodia that the Worker Rights Consortium has been closely monitoring. On December 11, 2018, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted six union leaders on baseless charges of instigating property destruction and acts of violence. The leaders received a two-and-a-half-year suspended sentence and were ordered to pay a fine.

The charges against the leaders stem from protests launched by garment workers to demand an increase in the Cambodian minimum wage. These protests started in late 2013 and were brutally suppressed by Cambodia’s military police at the beginning of 2014, resulting in the deaths of at least four garment workers. In the wake of the protests, the Garment Manufacturer Association in Cambodia, , the country’s chief factory owners’ organization, filed criminal complaints against the union leaders alleging that they committed acts of property destruction and physical violence during the demonstrations. To date, there has been no concrete evidence presented that demonstrates that any violence or significant property damage, other than that committed by military police, occurred during the protests, let alone any evidence that ties these union leaders to such activity.

The prosecution of these leaders has been condemned by labor and human rights organizations in Cambodia and internationally. These charges are only one part of a broader effort by the Cambodian government to silence garment workers and advocates. This poses significant concerns for university code compliance, as workers cannot freely exercise their associational rights in garment factories in a country where garment worker leaders are baselessly criminalized. In a context where workers forming independent organizations to advocate for their rights are targeted by the state, it is less likely that workers will speak out about or seek redress for violations of university codes and other labor standards.

Given this, the Worker Rights Consortium has maintained close contact with our partners in Cambodia regarding this case and has engaged with key licensees and other brands sourcing from Cambodia. As a result of this engagement, several licensees – adidas, Outerstuff, Fruit of the Loom (parent company of licensee Russell Athletic), and Hanesbrands (parent company of licensees Gear for Sports and Knights Apparel) – have required that their suppliers withdraw from the criminal complaint brought by the factory owners association against the worker leaders.

Several of the union leaders have filed appeals to the conviction. As the case continues to make its way through the Cambodian legal system, the WRC will continue to monitor its progress and will remain in conversation with our Cambodian partners.

Best,

Scott Nova
Executive Director
Worker Rights Consortium

nova@workersrights.org