WRC Report: E Garment (Cambodia)

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Ben Hensler
Date:December 13, 2012
Re:WRC Report: E Garment (Cambodia)

Please find here a report detailing the findings and recommendations of the WRC concerning serious labor rights violations at E Garment, an apparel factory in Cambodia that has been disclosed by VF Corporation as a supplier of university logo apparel.

E Garment also produces non-collegiate licensed garments for Vantage Custom Classics (Vantage) and other overseas buyers, including Inditex (Zara), H&M, Marks & Spencer, C&A, Phillips Van Heusen (PVH), and Kohl’s Department Stores. The factory is located in Cambodia’s Kandal province and employs roughly 2900 workers.

E Garment is owned and operated by the Hong Kong-based Yee Tung Garment Company, Ltd. (“Yee Tung Group”), a “participating supplier” member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA). Yee Tung Group also owns and operates fourteen other apparel factories in Asia and the Middle East.

The WRC undertook its assessment of labor rights practices at E Garment in response to complaints received in August 2010 from the factory’s workers of violations of Cambodian law and university and buyer codes of conduct in the area of respect for freedom of association. The WRC has continued to monitor developments at the factory from its receipt of the original complaint to the present.

The WRC found serious and ongoing violations by E Garment’s management of its workers’ associational rights, that the factory, VF and E Garment’s other buyers – despite extensive attempts at engagement by the WRC – have repeatedly failed to remedy, including:

  • Retaliatory firings of eight workers who were leaders of an independent union following an incident in which these workers were violently attacked on the factory floor by the members of a rival union favored by the company;
  • Active complicity and collusion by E Garment’s management in fabricating and falsifying evidence to place blame for the violence on workers who were actually the victims of this brutal assault, and concealing the roles and responsibilities of those who were its actual perpetrators and instigators;
  • Systematic and targeted terminations of 35 workers by E Garment’s management in retaliation for these employees’ support for and participation in the associational activities of an independent union; and
  • Interference with workers’ freedom to join a union of their choice, by preventing workers from resigning from a union favored by the company and joining an independent union.

In August 2011, the WRC sent a previous version of this report to VF and other E Garment customers, including PVH, H&M, Inditex, and Vantage, and asked them to urgently resolve the violations detailed in the report. Regrettably, VF, Vantage and Inditex did not respond, and H&M only referred to evidence that, as we explain herein, was by then clearly discredited as its justification for not taking any action. Prior to receiving the WRC’s August 2011 communication, PVH had taken some steps to achieve the reinstatement of two of the over 40 union activists who had been discriminatorily discharged by the factory, but since has not taken any steps to resolve the other serious labor rights violations detailed in this report.

Despite the longstanding nature of the violations in this case, remedial action by the company, VF and E Garment’s other customers remains a vital necessity. The labor rights abuses detailed here represent the violation of freedom of association in its most virulent forms: mass retaliatory termination of employees who are union supporters, and the use of violence against workers for their union activities.

Two additional factors make corrective action of particularly urgent importance in this case. First, as described in this report, Cambodia has an unfortunate recent history of violence against employee union leaders and other workers engaged in associational activities. Secondly, as detailed in this report, the violence at E Garment was visited on workers in retaliation for their gathering the signatures of their coworkers on a petition to demand national collective bargaining over wages in the Cambodian apparel industry. Violence against worker activists and union leaders, suppression of collective bargaining, and, relatedly, an overall decline in garment worker wages, are all major labor rights issues for the Cambodian garment sector.

At E Garment, workers seeking to exercise the most quintessential of associational rights – to petition their employers to negotiate over the wages they earn for their labor – suffered both physical injury and loss of livelihood at the hands of a factory management acting in collusion with a group of violent thugs in its own employ. Perversely, the factory punished the victims of this assault, and aided the perpetrators in concealing their crime. And, as is all too often the case, the response of the company’s top management and most of its buyers, thus far, has been the complicity of simply pursuing business as usual.

The violations of freedom of association at E Garment provide a stark illustration of the challenges facing Cambodian garment workers who seek to exercise their fundamental associational rights. Vindication of this right – and compliance with university and buyer codes of conduct – will not be possible until these violations are corrected and those complicit in them have been held accountable.

Scott Nova 
Worker Rights Consortium 
5 Thomas Circle NW, 5th Floor 
Washington DC 20005 
ph  202 387 4884 
fax 202 387 3292 
[email protected]