Report – Cambodian Factories Use Short-Term Contracts to Exploit Garment Workers

To:WRC Affiliate Colleges and Universities
From:Scott Nova and Ben Hensler
Date:August 30, 2011
Re:Report – Cambodian Factories Use Short-Term Contracts to Exploit Garment Workers 

A recent study by a leading human rights law center calls on U.S. apparel brands to help end Cambodian garment industry’s exploitive use of temporary work contracts which are undermining labor rights in that country. The Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic report, Tearing Apart at the Seams: How Widespread Use of Fixed-Duration Contracts Threatens Cambodian Workers and the Cambodian Garment Industry, details how the industry’s practice of employing their regular, full-time workforce almost exclusively on repeated short-term contracts (known in Cambodia as fixed duration contracts or “FDCs”) places at risk Cambodia’s reputation as a purported role model for other developing countries in protecting worker rights in export-apparel manufacturing.

The Yale study, which was conducted at the recommendation of the WRC, urges, among other measures, that apparel brands require their supplier factories in Cambodia to return to the practice of hiring its regular full-time employees on undetermined duration contracts (UDCs), under which its mostly female workforce had greater access to basic rights such as maternity leave. The report’s conclusions underscore concerns previously voiced by the WRC and other labor rights advocates that the industry’s conversion of workers to short-term contracts strips away legal protections and makes exercise of associational rights far more risky for workers. 

The WRC helped the Yale researchers arrange interviews with dozens of local stakeholders in Cambodia – including government officials, factory management, labor union officials, human rights organizations, and garment workers. The researchers found that Cambodian garment factories use short-term contracts to “suppress freedom of association and retaliate against union leaders; deny workers benefits to which they are legally entitled, including maternity leave; coerce workers into forced overtime; and deny workers the full salary and bonuses to which Cambodian law entitles them.”  

The report recommends that, to avoid further industrial strife, human rights violations and reputational harm to its garment industry, the Cambodian government abandon plans to loosen existing statutory restrictions on the use of short-term contracts and that apparel buyers require their Cambodia suppliers to refrain from using short-term contracts for their regular year-round workforce. The WRC looks forward to discussing this important study and its conclusions with university licensees and other stakeholders. 

The full text of the Yale report is available online at:

Media coverage of the Yale report is available here:

Leonie Barrie, “Short-term Contracts Exploit Cambodia Workers,” Just-Style (Aug. 9, 2011),

Mary Kozienski and Kong Meta, “Workers Face Contract Woes,” Phnom Penh Post (Aug. 11, 2011),