WRC Report: Zongtex Garment Mfg. (Cambodia)

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To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Jessica Champagne
Date:March 13, 2014
Re:WRC Report: Zongtex Garment Mfg. (Cambodia)

Please find here a WRC report on workers’ rights violations at two Cambodian facilities owned by the Taiwanese-owned firm Zongtex Garment Manufacturing. University licensee Fine World LLC has disclosed Zongtex as a producer of collegiate apparel for its brand E5. Zongtex also produces non-collegiate apparel for a variety of firms including Costco, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, and Sears.

Since initiating an investigation in response to worker complaints, the WRC has documented violations at both Zongtex’s main factory in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a second Zongtex-owned factory in Pochentong, Cambodia that appears to operate as a “hidden,” unregistered subcontractor to the main facility. At its main facility, among other violations of university codes of conduct, Zongtex has violated Cambodian law regarding underage workers, deprived workers of legally required compensation, coerced workers to work overtime, and provided workers with unclean drinking water that may endanger workers’ health. Factory management has also placed excessive restrictions on workers’ access to bathrooms, including placing a guard outside the restroom who tracks how long each worker spends inside. The WRC also identified many of the same violations at Zongtex’s second facility. In addition, at both facilities, Zongtex management has illegally terminated workers in retaliation for their exercise of freedom of association.

Zongtex has exacerbated these violations of Cambodian law and international standards by refusing to cooperate with Cambodian labor authorities and abide by legally binding decisions from the Cambodian Arbitration Council, the country’s leading labor adjudication body. The company has repeatedly refused Cambodian Ministry of Labor representatives access to its facilities and failed to attend mandatory conciliation meetings convened by the Ministry. When the Arbitration Council has ordered the factory to reinstate workers it illegally dismissed, Zongtex has simply ignored these decisions.

Zongtex has proven similarly unwilling to comply with the WRC’s recommendations for remedying violations of university of codes of conduct. While the company initially adopted some remedial measures after being contacted by the WRC and Fine World LLC, Zongtex has since reversed some of these improvements, reverting to prior practices that contravened university codes, and has committed additional violations.

Given Zongtex’s track record, the WRC believes that the company is unlikely to remedy the violations identified in this report and bring its practices in compliance with Cambodian labor law and university codes of conduct, unless its buyers take stronger action than has been the case to date. If buyers do not take such action, it is unlikely that the Zongtex workers will be able to secure redress for these violations and respect for the basic rights granted them by Cambodian law.

When initially contacted by the WRC, Fine World LLC reported that it was no longer doing business with Zongtex, but that Fine World and its agent, March Development, would contact the company. The WRC contacted a number of other brands and retailers that had been identified as purchasing from Zongtex, including Jones Apparel Group, Kohl’s, JCPenney, Cato, and Derek Heart, but received no positive responses. The WRC has since become aware of several additional buyers, including the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), the government agency which operates retail apparel stores on US military bases.

The WRC will be contacting AAFES, along with other buyers from the factory, regarding the violations at Zongtex. A recent article in the New York Times called attention to the lack of protections for workers producing apparel for the federal government, citing labor rights violations in several overseas factories, including Zongtex.

AAFES’ decision to place orders with a factory with such disregard for national law and international labor standards reflects the agency’s lack of a robust system for preventing or addressing workers’ rights violations in its supply chain. The WRC urges AAFES, along with Zongtex’s other buyers, to press the factory’s management to end its practices that violate Cambodian law and recognized international labor rights standards, and to make workers whole for the harms they have suffered due to Zongtex’s past violations of their legal rights.

As you may be aware, Cambodia has also been the site of deadly violence by military police against protesting garment workers in recent months. The WRC will be reporting shortly on the violence and violations of human rights occurring in Cambodia by the state, the underlying conflict over Cambodia’s low minimum wage, and the role of the garment industry in the human rights crisis.

Scott Nova 
Worker Rights Consortium 
5 Thomas Circle NW, 5th Floor 
Washington DC 20005 
ph  202 387 4884 
fax 202 387 3292 
nova@workersrights.org 
www.workersrights.org