Rapporten Shop 'til they drop - Fainting and Malnutrition in Garment Workers in Cambodia dokumenterer at en væsentligt årsag til besvimelserne er den fejlernæring, som er udbredt blandt Cambodjanske tekstilarbejdere.
Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) i Cambodja har indsamlet data om månedlige fødevareindkøb fra arbejdere på en række fabrikker, undersøgt kalorieindholdet i maden og sammenlignet det med det anbefalede kalorieindtag. Der blev også sammenlignet med en stikprøve af arbejdernes BMI for at se om der er indikationer på sundhedsproblemer.
Resumé af rapport, CLEC, Labour Behind the Label and Clean Clothes Campaign, 2013
En lang række kendte tøjmærker får produceret deres tøj i Cambodja. Bl.a. H&M, Levi Strauss, GAP og Adidas.
I de sidste år har der været en lang række tilfælde af massebesvimelser blandt kvindelige tekstilarbejdere i Cambodja. Alene i 2012 var der mere end 2000 rapporterede tilfælde af massebesvimelser. Det reelle antal formodes at være betydeligt højere.
Arbejdere fandtes at indtage 1598 kalorier om dagen i gennemsnit, hvilket er omkring halvdelen af den anbefalede mængde for en kvinde, der arbejder i industrien. BMI tal fra 95 arbejdere viser at 33% af arbejderne er undervægtige med risiko for underernæring, og yderligere 3% er alvorligt undervægtige.
Den seneste udvikling (2014) i Cambodja er, at flere arbejdere er døde på hospitalet efter at være indlagt efter besvimelse på en tekstilfabrik. De er døde af udmattelse og mangel på næring.
Arbejderne bruger kun 1,53 dollar USD dagligt på mad i gennemsnit. En daglig kost på 3000 kalorier med tilstrækkelig næringsstoffer og protein ville koste 2,50 USD dagligt. Den anbefalede kost på 3000 kalorier om dagen svarer til 75,03 dollar USD om måneden.
Da den månedlige mindsteløn i Cambodja i øjeblikket 80 dollar USD er det reelt ikke muligt for arbejderne at købe den mad de har brug for.
Beregninger viser at en løn, som er nok til at leve af for en tekstilarbejder og hende familie, med tilstrækkeligt mad, ordentligt bolig, sundhedspleje og andre behov skal ligge på omkring $ 450,18 USD om måneden.
The garment industry is the largest sector of the Cambodian economy, representing Cambodia’s biggest export with an industry employing hundreds of thousands of workers. Like those in Bangladesh, Cambodia’s factories have structural problems while the garment workers suffer inhumane working and living conditions. Striking workers have been protesting repeatedly to demand a decent living wage. Working six days a week, 8 hours a day, they carry a monthly wage of 61 USD, barely enough to meet their basic living expenses. According to the report „Shop ‘Til They Drop” the employees consume around half the calories needed for garment factory work, while protein intake fell well below half the basic human need. The recommended 3,000-calorie diet alone would cost around USD 75 a month. The serious malnourishment of the industry’s over 400,000 people - mostly women and girls - together with poor working conditions have caused numerous incidents of mass faintings and collapses in the factories over recent years.
Text and images by Steffi Eckelmann, 2013
The garment workers I interviewed and photographed for this photo spread are mostly living in rented rooms in a Phnom Penh suburb nearby garment factories producing clothes for international brands. Three to six women share just one room, not bigger than 8 square metres, often even without a window or any fresh air. No furniture, simply plastic sheets on the floor to sleep on, a toilet and portable gas stove with some pots for cooking. It is washing, eating and sleeping in cramped conditions for years. The women share the cost of the room, of water and electricity which sums up to 30-40 USD per person per month.
They are working from 7am until 4pm with one-hour lunch break. Overtime ranges from two to four hours but easily extends to six hours and often includes Sunday work or night shifts particularly during peak season. The extended working hours adversely affects the health and wellbeing of the workers. The list of occupational injuries and illnesses is long and leads from fatigue, stress, depression to general health complaints (headache, stomach ache, nausea, dizziness, chest disease, sore throat, gastrointestinal diseases), to cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, chronic infections and all-cause mortality.
Photography as Activism
My name is Steffi Eckelmann. I am a freelance photographer from Germany, currently living in Munich. Being a photographer means for me using the medium photography to raise awareness about injustice in the world to eventually help making the world a better place. Because of a scholarship I was able to spend 5 months in Cambodia in 2012 supporting different NGOs with my visual skills. One of my greatest concern ever since I read the book „No Logo” by Naomi Klein many years ago has been the working and living conditions of garment workers. All these years, those working conditions have only improved slowly despite all the information appearing in newspapers more and more. It makes me terribly sad and furious. How can people still silently accept, ignore or simply shut their eyes to all these horrible and unbearable facts? Coming across all the articles about mass fainting at Cambodian garment factories last year, I have decided to portray and interview garment workers to raise more awareness for the working conditions in garment factories and the lives they are living. My hope is to get consumers involved and to make them think about their buying habits as well as the connection between the pain of some and the wealth of others. More reflection in the world is needed, more transparency, more understanding as well as critical perspective in order to recognise social injustice and exploitation and to eventually create a change in the world.
The Visual Concept
To do research, I was working closely with two unions in Phnom Penh. One of them was C.CAWDU. I joined several strikes with Athit Kong to document the events and visited a lot of garment workers at their homes. They allowed me to have a look at their living conditions and shared with me about their working conditions. I finally decided on the visual concept of the photo spread. No distraction should allow the viewer of these portraits to drift away with their thoughts, with their involvement, with their sense of guilt. As the working conditions in the garment industry are rather kept in the dark – or at least tried to be kept in the dark –, I decided to bring some stories of garment workers to light. For several Sundays, I was building a small photo studio in one room shared by 4 garment workers and photographed 35 garment workers – all wearing a black t-shirt – against a black background. The worker’s faces were ‘drawn’ in the darkness through light that came from one side. With only a small window providing the room with barely enough fresh air, I could experience how it feels to spend a whole day in an extremely confined and heated space and can finally imagine more precisely how a garment workers’ life outside the factory must be. It was crucial for me to portray these workers with immense respect and dignity as I have the deepest respect for them. The life they face day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, is one of the toughest. And yet, they all shared a smile with me. The photo spread is not only documenting the inhumane exploitation of garment workers by international brands but at the same time shows a generation of Cambodian workers that the world should pay tribute to. There is no more time to shut one’s eyes and banish from one’s mind.
Miss Nop Saveit is 29 years old and has been working in the garment industry for ten years. Working extensive overtime on a daily basis has always been part of her job since she was 19 as well as a six-day week with only one day off. Nop Saveit is currently a seamstress at „Neworient Company” in Phnom Penh. All these years working as a seamstress have had a bearing to Nop Saveit’s health. She is constantly tired and weak and suffers from heavy headaches. On Sundays, when she is not working, she usually travels back to her hometown to see and support her family. She dreams of being married and working as a saleswoman in a small dress shop.
Long Pisey, age 35, started to work as a seamstress when she was 23 years. All these 12 years as a garment worker, she has been struggling to survive with the little money she earns. The excessive heat level in the factory where she is sewing is unbearable for her but she has no choice but to even work overtime. She hopes that one day she will be able to have her own sewing shop. On her day off, she just stays at home, being exhausted. She tries to get some sleep which is sometimes difficult as she shares the room with three other people. One of them is always sick which makes it impossible for the other women in the room to get rest. They have to look after each other and support each other like a family as relatives often live far away.
At the age of 16, Nop Nimol, today 24 years old, moved to Phnom Penh to work as a seamstress. She is currently working in building no. 3. Instead of being forced to meet the almost impossible quota every day and working overtime in a cruelly hot and noisy factory, she would prefer to decorate clothes. On her day off, there is no energy left but to rest lying on the bare floor. She hopes that one day she would be able to buy a small house and have one or two children and a husband. But she is afraid this will just remain a dream.
Sean Raksmey is 22 years old with already seven years of work experience as a seamstress. She is working at the „Neworient Company” in Phnom Penh but would rather be a saleswoman selling beautiful dresses. She hopes that the brands will increase the minimum wage as it is really hard for her to cover all her expenses and still send some money home to her family. The only food that she can afford is the one in the street near the factories which is not the healthiest food. On Sundays, when she is not working, she stays at home to rest and do house work.
Miss Roeun Senghak, 22 years old, has been working as a seamstress at the „Neworient Company” in Phnom Penh for three years. She is suffering from strong headache due to the heat and no fresh air while working six days a week. Her living conditions aren’t any better either as she shares a small room without any window with four other women. Yet, on her day off, she stays in her room as she is too exhausted from work. She wants to make as much money as possible as long as she is still young to send it back to her family in need.
Miss Pov Sophar, 25 years old, started to work as a seamstress when she was 19 years old. Ever since she has moved to Phnom Penh to work she misses her family. She would prefer to live close to her hometown and decorate clothes instead of sewing up to 12 hours a day in a hot factory six days a week. Sometimes the women and girls in her factory are not even allowed to take a bathroom break spending the whole shift on their feet. She hopes that one day she will meet her future husband to save her from the job as a seamstress but she is wondering where she will ever meet him. On her day off she is just staying in her room.
At the age of 14, Om Sarorn, today 22 years old, had to start to earn money to support her family. It is eight years now that she has been sewing six to seven days a week at „Marachun”. Every morning she travels 1,5 hours on a truck to Phnom Penh and another 1,5 hours back after a long and exhausting day in the factory. She is always tired and feels weak but still has to help her familiy on the farm on her day off. She hopes that the clothing companies will increase the minimum wage so that she is no longer forced to work extensive overtime to have enough money for her family and herself. If she had a choice she would rather be a saleswoman than a seamstress.
Miss Kay Chantha is 24 years old. She has been sewing at the „Neworient Company” with five years of work experience. Together with five other women, she shares a small room with lack of privacy for each one of them. On her day off, she likes to read a book to banish all sad thoughts about her working and living conditions and dreams of having a family and a farm one day. She loves to work outside with fresh air and not inside a hot and noisy factory with no air conditioning system.
Miss Ren Eim is already 42 years old. For 12 years she has been working as a seamstress and is currently employed by the „Neworient Company”. All these years working in the garment industry have had consequences for Ren Eim’s health. She is suffering from headache and heavy coughing ever since she has started to work as a seamstress. As Ren Eim is already older, she is afraid of getting sick and having no health insurance to cover her needs which is the reason why she is working as much overtime as her health allows it. On her day off, she tries to recover from work as much as possible just staying in her room, which she shares with two other women.
On Phoun, 38 years old, is a seamstress at the „Neworient Company”. For ten years she has been sewing, often working overtime seven days a week. Even though she has learned to live a very basic life, saving money at the end of the month is almost impossible. The more she works, the easier she gets sick and in need of medication, which causes a vicious cycle of debt, poverty and bad health. As most of her colleagues she just takes a rest staying in her room when she is not working. She is sometimes even too exhausted to cook.
Nget Sokvann is 28 years old and has been working as a seamstress at the „Neworient Company” for seven years. Earning a wage of 65 USD makes it almost impossible for her to survive and still contribute an income to her family. She needs to support the education of her younger sister and pay for the treatment of her mother being ill. Feeling dizzy and having a headache while working is something she is used to. She tries not to question her life but just keeps going. Her dream is to just stay at home with her family to take care of them and work on the farm.
Miss Mourng Chanthorn is 27 years old with six years of working experience as a seamstress. She hasn’t given up her dream to have a small shop one day sewing dresses for weddings. She would love to start a business with her sister who is ironing at a garment factory and suffering a lot. She starts to work at 7am working extensive overtime and having no break between 12pm and 9pm. Mourng Chanthorn is worried how much longer her sister will be able to manage this job and life. She hopes that the minimum wage will be increased soon.
Miss Gnel Kimly, 29 years old, feels the devastating effect that 11 years of working as a seamstress have on her health. The poor quality of food she is able to afford due to the little money she earns causes regular stomach aches and problems with her intestines. Enduring the pain is sometimes hard but she has no money left to see a doctor. She is worried about all the young girls starting to work in the garment industry at the age of 14 years or even younger. On her day off, she stays in her small room that she shares with another five seamstress.
Miss Bo Channa, 20 years old, got her first job in the garment industry when she was 18 years old. After only 2 years of working as a seamstress in building no. 3, she is already constantly tired suffering from headache and nausea. On Sundays when she is not working she is just sleeping all day long. She feels no energy left to take any action, meeting friends or family. All these hours in an extremely hot factory, with only little water and strict supervisors controlling every move stresses her to the highest extent. Sometimes she just wants to be on her own but as she is sharing the room with five other women, this is never possible. But hopefully one day, when she is married and living in a nice house, she will find that peace she is longing for every day.
Seven years of sewing have had an unhealthy impact on Sem Chantoeun’s life. At the age of only 26 years she has been constantly suffering from respiratory problems. The temperature in the factory is far from acceptable and the air is full of chemicals. Being exposed to such surroundings between six to seven days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day is unbearable for Sem Chantoeun. She would love to live a different life with healthy working conditions and a decent wage. She hopes that one day she can have her own little shop with an air conditioning system, no more health problems and with time and energy to meet friends.
Interview: Tola Moeun, head of the Labour Programs at the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC)
Tola Moeun is Cambodia’s public enemy number one – at least in the eyes of many garment manufacturers and politicians. For years now, this legal expert has been supporting workers’ organizations in defending their right to a living wage and decent working conditions. His weapons: the law and the media.
By Clean Clothes Campaign
Q: What does CLEC do to support garment workers in Cambodia?
A: We provide technical and legal support on issues related to labor law and trade union law. We mostly work with local union leaders, NGOs and students, but our trainings are open to all, including human resources managers and civil servants.
We also devote a large part of our work to public awareness on labor issues. For instance, we have set up a weekly radio program focusing on workers problems in garment factories: overtime, maternity leave, contracts, bonuses, union busting, etc. Every Wednesday, workers can call us to express their grievances and ask questions. We compile their questions and our legal experts provide a legal answer on the following week. Every month, we summarize the main issues raised by workers and call officials, MPs or employers to get their reaction live on the radio. Of course, many of them don’t like that. This program is now available in 11 provinces and potentially reaches 4 to 5 million people. It is crucial to reach marginalized workers and analyze the trends in labor law violations.
Q: You are also very active in publishing analyses and providing opinions in newspapers…
A: We are legal experts. Our role is to look at the labor law and its implementation in Cambodia. Based on our research and on workers’ grievances, we submit op-eds and articles to newspapers to inform policy-makers on various problems and solutions. Is the labor law clear enough on short-term contracts? Are there contradictions between the law and the ILO guidelines? What is the legal responsibility of authorities regarding union busting practices? In our publications and media activities, we never express our personal opinion. We only focus on a legal perspective. That’s probably why we are considered “troublemakers” in some influential circles…
Q: What are the main issues raised by workers?
A: The most common problem is probably the right to sick leave. Workers have to provide a certificate to be on sick leave. But given their wage, going to the doctor is too expensive. That’s why they go to work even when they’re seriously sick and cannot enjoy one of the most basic labor rights. Maternity leave is also an important issue. Most garment workers have short-term contracts and employers tend to renew these contracts over and over. Why? Because it denies workers their right to maternity leave as well as their seniority bonus. We also have many cases of workers who have been dismissed for being pregnant, or enjoying their right to rest but without receiving their legal allowance. These are typical cases where CLEC can provide legal support.
Q: What about overtime issues?
A: Excessive overtime is the cause of many health problems. But it’s above all the symptom of the low wages in Cambodia. It is not possible to survive without overtime in the garment sector. With your minimum wage, the health allowance and the attendance bonus, you get 73 dollars. Since you often have to pay 30 dollars for a simple room, you have no choice but to eat for one dollar a day. I’s as simple as that. But you need to send money to your family and cover your daily expenses. That’s why the majority of workers work more than 10 hours a day. Some even work seven days a week. They don’t have a choice. But even if they had the choice, they couldn’t refuse overtime because of their precarious contracts and the fear of losing their job.
Q: This is a human problems, but also a legal problem…
A: Absolutely. The Cambodian labor law is crystal clear on the issue of wages. Articles 104 and 107 specify that the minimum wage must guarantee decent living and human dignity. Specifically, the minimum wage paid for a 48-hours week must cover the worker’s basic needs – as well as those of his/her dependents – and be regularly revised to match with the inflation. But these two conditions are not met today. This is the responsibility of the state. Legally, the government has the obligation to guarantee a decent living for garment workers. This failure from the state is an opportunity for brands and manufacturers to get rid of their corporate social responsibility in Cambodia. This public failure is also the source of thousands of human problems. Women work too much, they eat less, they sleep less, they don’t go to the doctor… They are extremely vulnerable. That is why thousands of them fainted in 2010 and 2011. And the trend will go on this year.
Q: The Cambodian state is thus the first responsible for this situation?
A: Yes, because he is the one defining wages and violating its own legislation. On the paper, the Cambodian law and the legal system are excellent. We have a 3-level court system – first court, appeal and Supreme Court – and an Arbitration Council dealing with labor disputes. But the judicial system is not independent and decisions of the Arbitration Council are not always binding. That’s why workers try to avoid the judicial system and rely on strikes and on international campaigns.
We desperately need to have an independent labor court whose decisions are binding. CLEC has studied the models and functioning of such courts in other Asian countries. We will submit our recommendations to the government and to the unions pretty soon. But if the future Cambodian labor court is also a politically oriented body, then we’d better rely on the Arbitration Council…
Q: What is the responsibility of brands regarding wages?
A: They also bear a huge responsibility. Of course, brands are not NGOs and business is not philanthropy. But they have to respect their national laws and their codes of conduct. These codes underline the necessity to respect human rights, including the right to a decent work. Brands make a lot of fuss about their CSR. But if they want to be credible – especially with their clients – they need to be more responsive to the challenges faced by garment workers.
The faintings that occur regularly in Cambodia are already signs that brands’ commitment to decent work is not put into practice. A few months ago, Puma’s supplier Huey Chen was faced with massive faintings in Cambodia. I went there to estimate the number of victims. I interviewed workers and local shop owners, and they told me that at least 300 workers had fainted. I reported this to the media, but Puma immediately replied that “only” 131 workers had fainted. “Only”? This kind of reply is symptomatic, even if Puma eventually came up with a ‘correction plan’.
Q: But what is the interest for brands to push for better wages in the supply chain?
A: As businesses, brands should respect basic economic principles, like the link between productivity and wages. Studies in Cambodia have shown that workers employed for a couple of years constantly increase their added value and productivity: they gain skills, sew faster, are more precise... But at the same time, wages are getting lower and contracts are getting shorter. Economically speaking, that does not make sense. Brands must assume higher wages if they want to keep skilled people working for them. Better wages means higher productivity, better quality, better reputation and a justified price increase for the consumer. Moreover, Cambodia is already experiencing a shortage of workers willing to join garment factories because of the poor working conditions. Even faced with an important unemployment, Cambodian workers now prefer to join booming sectors like services and tourism. Brands and manufacturers should be worried about this.
Q: Business awareness will take time. Until then, striking seems to be the only way for workers to get better wages. Do you agree?
A: You are right. Given the failure of the legal system to protect workers and the absence of a wage adjustment mechanism, strikes have been the key weapon to increase salaries in the sector. But this path is not sustainable for the future. Strikes are extremely costly for the workers and for the employers. It hinders the industrial relations. Moreover, there is a growing criminalization of human rights activists in Cambodia, and union leaders can easily face judicial charges of ‘incitement’. That is a real problem today.
That’s why we need to work on all levels of society, from top to down. We have to promote the rule of law and the enforcement of good governance policies. And we need workers to constantly defend their rights with solid, legal arguments.
Q: Specifica, how do you help workers in dealing with these legal aspects?
A: We organize small meetings with local union leaders and provide them with adapted training sessions on labor law, civil law and criminal procedures. We also train them to prepare cases to be presented before the Arbitration Council. Even if its decisions are not binding, they are an important tool since brands, national and international stakeholders regularly affirm their support to the AC and its decisions.
The workers we train meet each other every 3 months to talk about their experiences. During these meetings, we also make an update on legislation and developments in the garment sector. To encourage them to actively use their knowledge, we have set up a symbolic incentives system. If they manage to bring a case to their employer and to reach an agreement, we give them one dollar. If they manage to bring the case to conciliation at the ministry level, they get 2 dollars. And if they push their case to the Arbitration Council, we give them 3 dollars. This system works very well – unfortunately for our budget [laugh].
These trainings really empower workers. I can see this day after day. They feel extremely proud to speak out, to accompany their colleagues to the court, to participate in meetings with the employers. There’s a new generation of activists emerging today. They are extremely motivated to learn and practice labor law. That is very encouraging, even if the road ahead is long and perilous.
Interview: Phork Hoeurng, coordinator of the Workers’ Information Center
The Workers’ Information Center (WIC) is a Cambodian grassroots organization working with female garment workers to improve their leadership and living conditions. WIC’s coordinator describes for us the main challenges faced by its members – and the successes so far.
By Clean Clothes Campaign
Q: There are many unions and NGOs working with garment workers in Cambodia. Why set up an organization dealing specifically with women?
A: Women represent 90% of garment workers in Cambodia, but the vast majority of union leaders are men, especially at the federation level. Female workers generally have limited education – most of them only finished primary school and can barely write and read. They therefore think that they can’t speak out to their managers and to their union leader. This is a problem of equity, but also a problem of efficiency since women face specific problems related to their sex.
Q: What kind of problems?
A: Their safety, for instance. Many of them work overtime, until 9 or 10 pm. They have to go back home at night and are often victims of harassment from gangsters. Once they’re home, they still face danger because most of the rental houses don’t have indoor toilets and bathrooms. These are problems that men don’t have to face day after day.
Another specific problem is related to their health conditions. Because of the wages in the sector, most women cannot take care of their health. They work overtime, even in the weekend, and have no time to relax. To get money, they put their health in danger, even when they are pregnant. Hygiene conditions at home and in the factories also have an impact on maternity and pregnancy issues. And these are specific problems that requires women to take leadership.
Q: What does WIC do to act on these issues?
A: We get in touch with local authorities and with the police to improve lighting, security and rapid responses. We inform landlords on safety, hygiene and construction standards. We collaborate with unions to put this issue on the agenda. We even met local gangs!
Health and working condition problems are of course related to the insufficient wages in the sector, and is therefore a priority in our work. But we also provide basic health counseling and natural medicines.
Q: How do you deal with the wage problem?
A: Many workers are exploited because they’re not organized. That’s why we encourage them to create or join unions. We explain what the labor law is, what they can do when they have a problem, how they can organize. We facilitate sessions in the evening, in workers dormitories, and in WIC’s six safe houses located in and around Phnom Penh.
We also organize English classes for women. It’s part of the wage solution because they need to speak English to deal with some factory managers. And English allows them to consider new job opportunities, like working in supermarkets or in foreign organizations. You cannot stay in the garment sector for 15 years. That’s too exhausting. Thanks to these classes, some of them even went back to school. That is very encouraging
Q: What are WIC’s successes so far?
A: Every time we see one of our members becoming a union leader, it’s a victory. There aren’t many to date, but the movement is on. And we also had successes on major collective actions, like the PDC garment closure in 2008 [a supplier for Gap, Target and Abercrombie & Fitch, ed. note]. The factory closed down unannounced and dismissed more than 500 workers without paying severance compensations. Workers were left jobless, with no money. WIC encouraged them to fight. We gave them legal counseling, got in touch with the Clean Clothes Campaign and after months of battle, 230 workers eventually got compensation. The others had abandoned the fight and found another job to survive.
Q: What is the added-value of collaborating with organizations like CCC?
A: International campaigns are extremely important because they have access to stakeholders at high level. We can’t. They can use the case studies that we compile here. And their communication towards consumers is also really effective. Consumers are informed and have a huge power, especially in Western countries. Of course, they still buy clothes from Gap, H&M or Levi’s – and that’s not wrong in my opinion – but they now express their willingness to see big brands improving working conditions in factories. Via the internet, they can participate in global campaigns towards big brands. And brands care about this because they cannot live without their customers.
Q: However, progress remains slow…
A: You are right, progress is really slow. Wages are still way too low. They do not match with the cost of living and the constant inflation. Take gasoline. Not so long ago, you only had to pay 1,000 riels for a liter. Today, it’s more than 4,000. Brands, factories and politicians should take this into account and adjust wages accordingly. Buyers remain the first responsible for this situation. Despite the international campaigns, they continue to put pressure on factories to keep wages as low as possible. Those who care about their image are sometimes cheated by the suppliers, who only show brands representatives a tiny part of the picture. And politicians don’t care or don’t really know what’s happening.
That’s why we have to work on every level. We have to push workers to join unions and fight for their rights. Unions must defend decent work and wages in factories. Consumers must speak out to the brands… Everything is linked. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to improve wages and working conditions in Cambodia!
Interview: Bent Gehrt, WRC Field Coordinator for Southeast Asia
Bent Gehrt is the Southeast Asian field director for the Workers’ Rights Consortium, an NGO that monitors factories producing apparel for 180 American, Canadian and British colleges and universities. He explains why Cambodia remains the regional ‘bad boy’ on wages and what challenges need to be urgently addressed.
By Clean Clothes Campaign
Q: You monitor garment factories in South East Asia for more than six years now. What is, in your view, the main problem in Cambodian garment sector today?
A: Wage is definitely the first issue for Cambodian workers. Some people think that wages are okay since the cost of living is ‘cheap’ in Cambodia. But that is a mistake. It’s actually cheaper to live in Thailand and Vietnam, where the wages are higher. In Cambodia, authorities have failed to catch up with inflation over the last 10 years. Since 2000, the gap between the minimum wage and the inflation rate has been growing dramatically. The minimum wage has been increased, but the actual wage decreased by more than 14%. The consequence is immense. Today, you cannot feed yourself anymore with the wages in the garment sector. I challenge you to get a breakfast, a lunch and a supper with a budget of one or two dollars. You will not succeed. It’s therefore easy to understand why 2,400 workers fainted between June 2010 and January 2012…
Q: You just said that garment wages are higher in neighboring countries. Is Cambodia an exception regarding wages?
A: There is a strange thing about Cambodia. Seven years ago, Vietnam used to have a lower wage than Cambodia. But now, Vietnamese wages are almost twice as high as in Cambodia. And Vietnamese factories provide free lunch for their workers. In Ho Chi Minh City, workers get 95 Dollars as minimum wage, a 13th month (an extra month wage) and a daily free lunch. In Cambodia, workers get 61 Dollars, a 5 Dollars health allowance and have to pay for their food. If the Cambodian industry was competitive seven years ago with same wages as Vietnam, why couldn’t it be competitive with the same wage today? That doesn’t make sense. The wage increase in Vietnam has nothing to do with a sudden booming in workers’ productivity, and Vietnamese textile and garment sector attained an export turnover of over 14 billion USD in 2011. I don’t see why wages in Cambodia couldn’t be raised as well.
The same story happened in other countries as well. Laos recently increased wages by 80%. The minimum wage is now 78 dollars – higher than in Cambodia. Thailand is planning to increase wages by 40% in the near future. The trend takes place everywhere around Cambodia, especially since China increased wages in its own garment sector. Why don’t Cambodian authorities follow this path? I don’t know. But there is a clear lack of political will. And I don’t see any chance of change in their approach. Unless something really dramatic occurs…
Q: Apart from wages, do you notice new challenging trends in Cambodian garment sector?
A: The most worrying trend is the massive increase in short-term contracts. The use of fixed-duration contracts (FDCs) perfectly illustrates the “boiling frog story”: if you throw a frog into boiling water, it will jump out immediately. But if you increase the heat of the water slowly, it will get accustomed and eventually get cooked to death. That’s what’s happening now in Cambodia.
When the trend started in 2005, employers used a very smart strategy. They stressed the fact workers could get 5% severance when their contract was terminated. Five percent, that makes only 3 dollars, but that means a lot when you have to eat for one dollar per day. Factory owners also maintained bonuses like seniority and maternity leave. Many unions didn’t notice the real danger behind these short-term contracts. But now that most factories have converted the unlimited duration contracts (UDCs) into short-term contracts, employers are in a favorable position and tend to cut all these benefits. Today, these precarious contracts are the main source of labor rights violations: termination of contracts for pregnant workers or union leaders, de facto forced overtime, etc. The ultimate aim of FDCs is to control the workers, to dismiss them without any valid reason – a condition required with UDCs – and to get rid of ‘disturbing’ elements. FDCs are extremely dangerous for unions. The water is boiling now. And even if these practices are totally illegal, factories are not alarmed because they can act in total impunity. But I predict a rise in strikes against this phenomenon.
Q: How did this massive shift happen so quickly?
A: By using persuasion, blackmail and cheating practices. The persuasive approach was based on stressing the maintenance of severance and bonuses. But financial blackmail was also widely used, especially before the two major holidays: Cambodian New Year and Pchum Ben – the ‘ancestor’s day’. These events are extremely important in the country. Workers need money to go back to their villages. This is the perfect timing to blackmail them. Sun Tex and Bright Sky factories are two striking examples. In 2008 and 2009, they converted their entire workforce into short-term contracts just by saying “we will give you extra money for the holidays, but you have to sign a 6-months contract”. Of course, many workers agreed. Some union leaders denounced the trick and were immediately dismissed. And no buyer took action.
PCCS Group, the owner of several factories in Cambodia, used another strategy. The company moved its production from one factory to another to make it look like a decrease in orders. They started early retirement programs, gave severance pay and closed one of their units. But as soon as all workers were dismissed, they reopened the factory with a brand new name, and hired all workers on 3-months contracts with minimum wage. The only thing that didn’t change was the buyers: Gap and Adidas. And I can’t believe that these brands were unaware of this trick. There must have been communication about this strategy.
Q: Who is primarily responsible for this situation?
A: It’s a difficult question. The responsibility is clearly shared by brands, Cambodian officials and manufacturers. The Cambodian Arbitration Council (AC) has stated that the continuous renewal of FDCs is illegal: after two years, you must get a UDC. Brands, officials and employers say that they all support the Arbitration Council’s decisions, but no one wants to implement that specific one on FDCs. If you claim that you support the AC, you cannot pick and choose which decisions you respect and which ones you reject. Brands have failed to respect their pledge to support the AC. Manufacturers pretend that there is a legal uncertainty. And government officials propose amendments to the labor law… aimed at legalizing the illegal practices of companies.
Q: The situation seems desperate on this issue…
A: Since no one is willing to take serious steps in the right direction, there are very few successes so far. The only positive example I know occurred in 2006, when Adidas asked one of its suppliers to give UDCs to the workers. Since then, I haven’t seen any success at all. And as far as I know, only two factories in Cambodia exclusively work with UDCs: E Garment and SL Garment. But they also have huge issues with freedom of association. In some other factories where unions are strong, the majority of workers also have UDCs. But that’s all. In general, larger companies provide 6 months or one year contracts – it would be crazy for them to manage to renew 5,000 contracts every 3 months. But smaller factories often use shorter contracts: 3 months, 2 months or even 25-days contracts. The rule is simple. If you ‘behave well’, you can get a longer contract. Otherwise, you’re out.
Q: You are a monitoring expert in the region. What do you think of the monitoring system in Cambodia?
A: As you know, Cambodia has a unique monitoring system in the world managed by the International Labour Organization: the “Better Factories Cambodia” program (BFC). When this system was set up in the country, it really made a difference. The first BFC reports clearly named the factories where labor rights violations occurred. And these were public reports. But in 2005, with the phasing out of the Multi-Fiber Agreement (MFA), the rules changed and a new agreement had to be reached on these reports. The naming of factories was then abandoned. Since then, factories are the only ones who decide who should have access to the comprehensive, detailed reports on violations. Public reports just mention the violations found in the sector, but without saying where it occurred. It’s a shame. The last BFC report mentions cases of child labor in five factories. But which are these factories? That’s a major transparency problem. People should know.
The other problem with this ILO system is that subcontracted units cannot be monitored. They operate in a completely opaque context. How many are they in the country? Two hundreds? Two thousands? Nobody knows, and this is another major weakness of the program.
A third problem is of course that controllers from the Ministry of Labor are dramatically underpaid. They get 50 or 60 Dollars a month, and even their per diems are confiscated by their supervisors. They would be crazy to refuse the bribes offered to close their eyes…
Q: So how does WRC deal with a problem that even the UN cannot address?
A: WRC controllers have the right to monitor the suppliers as far as needed. That is part of the contract we sign with the brands. Most of the time, we have full access to factories. But subcontracting practices are not always easy to identify. So far, it’s been very difficult to identify these factories and it is clearly one of our priorities for the future. One way of finding it is to push brands to disclose the volume of their orders. But they’re not always 100% transparent on that issue. That’s where international pressure can be very useful.
Q: Precisely, what is the added value of international campaigns in improving wages and working conditions in Cambodia?
A: They definitely play a big role. Of course, change cannot come only from overseas. Workers are the main actors of change and our role is not to take over their action. But campaigns play a key role in enhancing the visibility of their actions. Take the September 2010 general strike. The movement came from the workers, but its impact has been greatly amplified through other stakeholders like the Clean Clothes Campaign. Many union members were fired in retaliation of the strike, but the international pressure on brands like H&M or Inditex was decisive to reinstate them. As the saying goes, “no one is free as long as one is not free”. And in Cambodia, the majority of workers are not free. So we can’t just wait for workers to be strong and organized. It’s a question of solidarity.
Q: What is your message to those who feel bad wearing Levi’s jeans?
A: If you want to be 100% ethical, you’ll have to live naked. Everything you can find in general stores was made in a sweatshop. It’s as simple as that. But when you buy clothes, you can decide to reward the companies who are positively engaged with unions and NGOs. Is the brand you want to buy responsive to their appeals and campaigns? Does it correct its practices when there is a problem? These are important steps. That’s why I can say that I will never buy or wear Ralph Lauren shirts. Ralph Lauren never responds to any request from unions or NGOs. At least, Levi’s responds to NGOs’ requests. That’s a positive step. So keep your Levi’s. But don’t think it’s not a sweatshop product, because it is. And don’t think that expensive, luxury brands like Tommy Hilfiger or DKNY promote better working conditions in their supply chains. They don’t. I know a Hugo Boss supplier paying the minimum wage to the workers. Given the price they ask for their product, don’t you think they can afford to pay a little more?
Interview: Ath Thorn, President of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU)
Ath Thorn is the president of C.CAWDU, the largest independent garment union in Cambodia. Leader of a 50,000 member’s movement, he describes the daily problems faced by garment workers in the country.
By Clean Clothes Campaign
Q: Who are the 400,000 garment workers in Cambodia?
A: They’re generally young women from poor rural villages who had no choice but leave their family to get money in and around Phnom Penh. Poverty is such state in the countryside that some parents cannot feed their children or send them to school. That’s why they decide to send one, two or three daughters to the factory to financially support the rest of the family.
Once they find a job in a factory, these girls send as much money as possible to their hometown. That’s the deal. But they also have to pay for the rent, for their food, for their clothes and for all their daily expenses. Since they don’t get enough money, they generally borrow money from neighbors, from friends or moneylenders, with interest rates up to 20% per month. That’s why most of their money ends up in other hands: their relatives, their landlords and their creditors.
Q: So how do they manage to find enough money to survive?
A: They have to cut their expenses on every item possible. They share tiny rooms with 3, 4 or 5 people. They eat as little as it is humanly possible. They don’t go to the doctor when they’re sick… And of course, they make a lot of overtime. All these factors explain why we have these mass faintings everywhere in the country.
Q: How much money do they get in the factories?
A: The minimum wage in the garment sector is 61 USD per month – 56 dollars if you’re on probation period. Given the explosion of mass faintings, the government recently added a monthly 5 dollars health allowance. That makes 66 dollars. All the extra money you can get is conditional. For instance, you can get 7 dollars as ‘attendance bonus’ if you don’t miss a single working day. You also get 1 extra dollar per seniority year. And if you work overtime, you get 0,5 dollar per 2 hours.
Q: Is this an improvement compared to the situation 10 years ago?
A: We fought very hard to get there. In 2000, the minimum wage was only 40 dollars. Between 2000 and 2010, we had to organize four general strikes to get better wages. We had no other option. Every strike led to a 5 dollar increase. These protests also led to better bonuses. The attendance bonus increased from 5 to 7 dollars, overtime allowance doubled, seniority bonus was extended to 11 years – and not 4 years as it was previously... But even with these increases, we’re far, very far from a living wage.
Q: What would be a living wage in the sector?
A: Studies conducted in 2009 by the Cambodian Institute of Development Studies showed that minimum wage should be between 93 and 120 USD. And that was in 2009, when inflation was really low compared to 2012. Today, given the price increases, it is impossible to cover basic needs with less than 100 dollars. And I’m just talking about basic needs: food, rental and transportation. Since it is very hard to get increases in the minimum wage, we have to work on better bonuses and allowances to get as close as possible to 100 dollars.
Q: Why does the minimum wage remain so low in Cambodia?
A: Many factors explain this, but the first problem is definitely corruption. Garment is the first industry in Cambodia, and factory owners are extremely powerful. They have a huge influence on decision-makers and can easily bribe officials or unions to keep minimum wages as low as possible.
A second problem is that many other sectors in Cambodia do not have a legal minimum wage. The answer from the authorities is therefore easy: “how could we possibly increase salaries since civil servants do not even have such a legal minimum wage?”
A third reason is the classic ‘competitiveness argument’. Companies and buyers always argue that they can find cheaper labor costs elsewhere, in Bangladesh for instance. That’s a weighty and scary argument that companies use everywhere to make a maximum of profit while leaving workers with the lowest amount of money possible. But if you analyze the situation, you understand that this pressure on the wages is not in their interest.
Q: How so?
A: Because they now realize that leaving workers with such small wages is counter-productive. Workers get sicker and sicker, faintings happen all the time, and this has a cost for companies. Even China had to increase wages in recent years to deal with these problems. Moreover, many people are now thinking twice before joining the garment industry. Given the wages and the bad working conditions, many of them prefer to work in the tourism or services sectors, or choose to migrate. Only non-qualified, poor workers from the countryside then fill these positions. Qualified workers who stay in the industry tend to move from one company to another to find the best conditions and benefits. The low-cost policy pushes qualified workers to move away.
The situation is such in Cambodia that the garment employer’s federation recently announced that 50,000 vacancies remain unfilled. But who wants to work in factories that pay so low wages or don’t provide rental houses? That’s the case near Phnom Penh airport, for instance, where factories remain empty because they don’t provide any facility.
Q: What about the contracts issue? The number of short-term contracts is booming in recent years…
A: Today, I’d say that 60% of workers have a short term contract in the industry. Of course, if you visit the factories monitored by the International Labor Organization, you will probably find more than 80% of unlimited duration contracts. But everybody knows that these factories subcontract large parts of their production in shadow units, where 100% of the workers get short-term contracts. However, even monitored factories try to push workers to sign short-term contracts. That is one of the major issues that we have to face as a union.
Q: What’s the problem with short term contracts?
A: Short-term contracts are the root of major problems for workers. First, every contract you sign brings you back to a ‘zero-year’ seniority, so that you cannot enjoy your right to annual leave, maternity- and seniority allowance.
But short term contracts also act as Damocles swords on workers. “You refuse to make overtime? You contract will not be renewed”. “You want to join a union? Your contract will not be renewed”. “You get pregnant? Your contract will not be renewed”. And so on. Short-term contracts are a weapon of social destruction in Cambodia. They’re meant to maintain a precarious, servile and non-organized workforce in the factories. And thus keep wages low. The law authorizes factories to hire temporary workers for very specific tasks and specific times. It doesn’t allow them to multiply short term contracts. But that’s what’s happening. And that is totally illegal.
Q: Is the situation better in factories supplying big brands like Gap, Levi’s or H&M?
A: I generally say that working conditions are better in these factories thanks to the ILO mechanism I mentioned earlier. But as I told you, these suppliers also work with a large network of subcontractors that remain totally out of sight. Sometimes, the number of workers subcontracted is three, four or five times higher than in the monitored unit. And this is where the worst violations of labor law happen: forced overtime, union busting, no minimum wage...
Brands perfectly know that. They cannot just say “Oh, these are not the factories I deal with, it is not my responsibility.” It is their responsibility. A child would understand that when you order one million shirts to a 1,000-workers factory, it’s impossible to get them in a week.
Q: What can be done against this phenomenon?
A: It’s hard to find and fight these subcontractors, because they can close from one day to another and reopen elsewhere in the country. It’s a hide-and-seek game. And it is of course very difficult for us to enter these units and establish a union because union leaders are immediately dismissed. But it’s easy to show to the brands that the volume of production they get from “their” supplier cannot be manufactured there. When we find such illegal subcontractors, we denounce them to the authorities, to ILO, to the brands… We also take action during the annual garment buyers’ forum. But progress remain slow.
Q: What have been the successes of C.CAWDU so far?
A: Even if working conditions and wages remain bad in the country, they improved over the years. The union movement is stronger today than 10 years ago, and factories have to take this into account. C.CAWDU has now 48.000 members in 63 factories, and the number of affiliates is growing every year. We managed to impose or to defend unlimited contracts in many factories, and we’ve been at the forefront of the general strikes in the country.
But beyond all this, the main victory for me is to see all these workers interested in labor law, willing to learn about their rights and to defend it. A few years ago, many workers didn’t even know that their working conditions were bad. They considered it as normal. Today, they know what is acceptable and what is not. They can make the difference between an independent and a yellow union. And even if they sometimes still fear to join us, they know we’re here.
Q: C.CAWDU also established strong ties with international partners like the Clean Clothes Campaign. What is the added value of these outside actors?
A: The support of international organizations like CCC is decisive in our fight. Our actions complete each other. Unions make pressure on factory owners here, but CCC has access to consumers and big brands. This double action is key to showing which companies can be praised, and which ones can be put on a black list. Nobody loves to be black-listed.
International campaigns improved their strategies over the years. First-generation campaigns led to boycott or reduction of orders in Cambodia. That was not what workers needed here. But today, through their communication and advocacy, these campaigns push brands to make the right choices, to improve their practices. And that’s what we all want here in Cambodia.
Forholdene for tekstilarbejderne i Cambodja er elendige. De lave lønninger betyder, at arbejderne ofte lider af underernæring. Dette understreges af de mange tilfælde af massebesvimelser på en række fabrikker. Arbejderne er nødt til at leve i usle værelser, som de må dele med andre og er nødsaget til at tage alt for meget overarbejde.
En Løn Man Kan Leve Af, film fra 2012
'Short contract worker' eller ‘Suffering from Privatization”. Måske lyder det ikke som titlerne på hitnumre fra et populært kvindeband. Men lad dig ikke narre: Er du analfabet, og har fattigdom tvunget dig i arbejde på en af Cambodjas tekstilfabrikker, ja så går sangene rent hjem. Navnet er ‘Messenger Band’ og missionen er at forbedre de cambodjanske syerskers forhold.
Af Tanja Kjeldgaard
Norm Sreynao er 17 år og arbejder som syerske på en af Cambodjas mange tøjfabrikker i hovedstaden Phnom Penh.
Foto: Tanja Kjeldgaard.
I et af Phnom Penhs fabrikskvarterer arbejder Norm Sreynao som syerske. En 17 årig pige, der for fem måneder siden kom til Phnom Penh fra en landsby i Takeo provinsen. Alligevel synes hun ikke, at hovedstaden Phnom Penh virker stor. “For mig er hovedstaden lille, for jeg kender kun vejen fra mit rum og hen til tøjfabrikken”, fortæller hun mig.
Hver måned sender Sreynao hele sin løn på 100$ hjem. Selv lever hun for det, hun kan tjene på at tage overarbejde. Sreynao græder, da hun fortæller sin historie, og jeg ved ikke, hvor jeg skal kigge hen. Men da jeg nævner Messenger Band, lyser hun en smule op.
Messenger Band er et protest kvindeband dannet af tidligere tekstilsyersker. Deres sange handler om syerskernes problemer i landets største eksportsektor. Sreynaos fortæller mig om yndlingssangen ‘No Choice’, som hun siger handler om hendes families situation. For syersker som Sreynao er Messenger Bands sange er både terapi og et vigtigt våben i kampen for bedre løn- og arbejdsforhold.
I Cambodja kender man undertrykkelsens sprog alt for godt – men med Messenger Bands sange får retfærdigheden også en melodi.
‘No Choice’ er oversat fra Khmer til Engelsk og er 17-årige Sreynaos yndlingssang.
Messenger Bands Koordinator, Saem (tv) løber sammen med et andet medlem af Messenger Band i ly i bussen, inden regnen for alvor bryder ud.
Foto: Tanja Kjeldgaard.
På turné med budbringerne
Bussen kører af Road No 1. En hovedvej, der går helt til Vietnam. Men så langt skal de ikke. De 30 passagerer er fordelt i to minibusser og på vej til en landsby i den østlige provins Svay Rieng godt 100 km øst for Cambodjas hovedstad, Phnom Penh.
Ved færgeovergangen er der kø. “Se de synger inde i den anden bus”, lyder det fra en af pigerne, da de to busser kommer til at holde skråt overfor hinanden i virvaret af gadesælgere og forskellige transportmidler. Et vindue bliver rullet ned. ”Hvad! Keder I jer derovre – skal jeg virkelig komme over og sætte gang i jer?!” Det er Nom Sophors, som råber fra sin syngende og klappende bus. Hun er kendt for at være lidt af en spasmager. Hendes drillende og smilende opførsel i bussen står dog i direkte kontrast til den alvor og indlevelse, hun sammen med de andre bandmedlemmer leverer på scenen samme aften. Sophor løber ud af sin bus og med lidt skubben og masen manøvrer den orangehårede kvinde sig ind blandt passagerne i den mindre energiske bus.
Da bussen igen triller ud af Road nr. 1 får den nye passager sat gang i sangstemmerne med en leg. Det afsluttende bogstav i det første holds sang, skal modstanderne finde en sang der starter med. Det giver anledning til både diskussion og høj latter. Det hele minder på mange måder om en skoleklasse på lejrtur. Men bag den ubekymrede overflade gemmer sig en dyb alvor. Drengene i bussen er børn af tidligere sexarbejdere, og de tjener i dag deres penge som hiphop-dansere. Og så er der Messenger Band og modellerne. Kvinderne har alle arbejdet - eller gør det stadig - i tekstilbranchen. Flere af syerskerne har taget fri fra arbejdet på nogle af Phnom Penhs mange fabrikker for at kunne optræde denne lørdag. Turen er både et tiltrængt frirum fra den hårde hverdag men også en måde at sikre, at andre kvinder ikke ender i samme situation. Messenger Band er på vej med et budskab. Et budskab, der skal nå helt ud til landsbyerne og landets unge - Cambodjas bambusskud.
Messenger Band på turné. Der er godt humør i minibusserne.
Foto: Tanja Kjeldgaard
Messenger Band blev dannet i 2005 og Saem, som med et overlegent cambodjansk sangrepertoire har taget føringen i bussens sangleg, blev sammen med 4 andre udtaget til at være et af bandets medlemmer. I dag er hun også koordinator for bandet, og er en af hovedarrangørerne bag turnéen med alt hvad det indebærer af koordinering; transport, overnatning, forplejning, scene, musikere og information om eventen.
Bag sig har Messenger Band en række cd’er, koncert i Hong Kong, TV-optrædninger og deres musik bliver spillet på lokale radiostationer. Bandet er det første kvindelige protestband, som laver politisk folkemusik for at styrke arbejderkampen og kvinders rettigheder. Messenger Band er med når syerskerne strejker eller demonstrerer. Stående på taget af en bil synger de for i megafoner og folkemængden stemmer i.
Fremme i landsbyen
Omkring klokken 13 drejer bussen af ved en mudret vej. Passagererne svajer fra side til side som siv, når et hjul skrider ned i et af vejens huller. Endelig når vi frem.
Under nogle træer ved siden af et af de traditionelle huse, bygget på stolper, er borde og stole til 30 mennesker dækket op. Plastikmøblerne er dækket af farvestrålende stof og på bordet står maden, bestilt hos en lokal catering. Her bliver frokosten og senere aftensmad indtaget. 200 meter nede af vejen ligger tempelområdet. En gruppe munke vandrer afslappet rundt, og en dreng med en for stor cykel ser nysgerrigt op på den store scene, der er blevet stillet op i den ellers stille landsby. På scenen er fire musikere i færd med en lydprøve.
Også efter mørket er faldet på, fortsætter skønhedssalonen på fuldt tryk.
Foto: Tanja Kjeldgaard
En fuldt funktionsdygtig skønhedssalon
Det er en gammel og snaksagelig bondemand, der har lagt hus og have til koncert forberedelserne. Efter frokosten er indtaget bliver det skyggefulde område under huset omdannet til fuld funktionsdygtig skønhedssalon. En generator kæmper en brav kamp for at levere strøm til de mange hårtørrer, glatte- og crepejern, som er i flittig brug. Og det eneste toilet, der er placeret i en afsides bygning tæt ved rismark og hønsebur, er konstant optaget.
En ældre kvinde i jakkesæt er mødt op. Landsbychefen. Hun skal holde åbningstalen til showet, og er kommet for at spise med inden det hele går løs. Det samme er fire sikkerhedsvagter. “Vi kører derhen” afgør Saem, efter, at hun har drøftet sikkerheden med dem.
I løbet af eftermiddagen dukker ballonsælgere og madboder op rundt om scenen.
Foto: Tanja Kjeldgaard.
Fra syerske til showbizz
Klokken er syv men band og modeller fortsætter ufortrødent med det, der må være femte lag make-up. “Kom nu” forsøger Saem og går mod bussen. Ingen følger efter hende - og hun gentager manøvren et par gange, før damerne tager notis af det.
Klokken halv otte kører de to busser ind på tempelpladsen. Godt 1.000 mennesker er dukket op og det samme er boder og ballonsælgere. Taxichaufførerne mellem Phnom Penh og provinsen har spredt budskabet om koncerten og den lokale teatergruppe, som selv optræder i showet, har samme morgen annonceret koncerten ved at køre rundt med en højttaler i landsbyen. Og så er der naturligvis også en anden væsentlig detalje. Det er tørvejr.
Somaly Sok træder op på scenen for at byde de 800-1.000 fremmødte velkommen.
Foto: Tanja Kjeldgaard
Bag scenen balancerer Somaly Sok i sine høje hæle op af en usikker trappe. Hjemmevant træder hun ud i lyset fra de stærke projektører. Somaly Sok er vært for aftenens show og så langt hun kan se, stirrer opmærksomme ansigter op på hende. Lige nedenfor scenen beundrer en række piger hende, mens deres hænder knuger i et fast greb om scenehegnet og deres plads med godt udsigt.
Landsbyens børn er mødt op i god tid for at få pladser tættest ved scenen.
Foto: Tanja Kjeldgaard
Somaly Sok har selv arbejdet som syerske i mange år, inden hun blev aktivist. Hun fortalte ikke sine forældre om, hvor hårdt hun måtte arbejde og hvor meget overarbejde hun tog for at sende penge hjem til sin familie. Det er et stort problem, som går igen blandt syerskerne i Cambodja. De fortæller ikke selv deres familie, hvor hårdt livet er for dem i tekstilbranchen. Heller ikke siden, hun er begyndt at optræde for at oplyse om syerskernes løn- og arbejdsforhold, har hun åbnet op for den hårde snak med forældrene. ”Jeg ser dem kun til højtiderne, så er der ikke grund til at gøre dem kede af det”, konkluderer hun.
Nu står Somaly Sok oppe på scenen. Messenger Band gør sig så umage: Hvert nummer betyder nye kostumer og nye danse-moves. Bandmedlemmerne ved, at det ikke er nok med en hård tekst. Det skal også være underholdende og smukt, hvis alle skal lytte. Og det skal de. For syerskernes løn er et familie-issue. Skal lønnen hæves, skal familierne være med til at forstå pigernes arbejds- og lønforhold. Ellers kan de ikke forstå og bakke op om pigernes aktivisme og kamp for bedre løn.
Messenger Band i grønne kjoler - bare ét blandt mange smukke outfits som bandmedlemmerne optræder i under showet.
Foto: Tanja Kjeldgaard.
Et modeshow langt fra Fashion Week
“Hvor mange arbejder som syersker?” spørger Somaly Sok publikum. En del hænder ryger i vejret. Fra scenen begynder bassen at banke fra højtalerne. Ind kommer den ene cambodjanske skønhed efter den anden. Stramme sorte kjoler og høje stilletter i fast takt helt ud for enden af catwalken.
Det er blevet tid til modeshow. Et modeshow, der på mange måder adskiller sig fra den slags, modebranchen flokkes om til Fashion Week i København. Til dette modeshow handler det nemlig ikke om tøjet, men derimod om dem, der syr det.
Aftenens job som model er blot en bibeskæftigelse. Til hverdag arbejder kvinderne som syersker i Cambodjas største eksportsektor. Her må de hver dag stå model til lave lønninger og tvunget overarbejde for tøjbrands som H&M, Adidas og GAP.
Da modellerne går deres anden runde på podiet, er det ikke for at præsentere et nyt sæt tøj. I stedet bærer hver model et skilt med oplysninger om deres livssituation. På dette skilt præsenteres modeshowets tema: ‘En syerskes månedlige udgifter’.
Anden gang modellerne kommer ind på scenen har de hver et skilt med i hånden, der oplyser om deres lønforhold.
Foto: Len Ang
Til slut samles modellerne er på scenen. De viser skiltene frem. Et viser, at en syerske i 2014 ofte har udgifter til bolig, elektricitet og vand på 30 US$ om måneden, mens et andet oplyser, at de månedlige udgifter til mad udgør omkring 60 US$.
I oktober 2014 lå en syerskes minimumsløn på 100 US$. For overhovedet at kunne sende en smule penge hjem til familien i landsbyen er kvinderne nødt til at tage overarbejde, sommetider både om aftenen og natten.
Der bliver stille blandt publikum. Nogle mumler lavmælt. “Hvor skal de så arbejde, hvis de ikke kan være syersker - vi har ikke noget valg,” siger en mand bag mig.
En aktivist fra Messenger Bands kontor har stillet sig ved siden af mig nede blandt publikum. Hun ser analyserende rundt på publikum. “Der er altså lidt for mange der græder,” konstaterer hun tørt henvendt til mig. En bemærkning, jeg ofte har hørt om Messenger Band. Men sangene beskriver ikke kun de dårlige forhold. De oplyser også om rettighederne, som syerskerne faktisk har ifølge loven - men som ikke respekteres.
Messenger Band synger fra taget af tre biler til en demonstration for bedre løn- og arbejdsforhold for syerskerne.
Foto: Messenger Band.
Sound of Da’ Police!
“Vi synger også til demonstrationerne,” forklarer Messenger Bands koordinator, Saem. Messenger Band ved hvordan man laver en ørehænger eller et genkendeligt omkvæd - og det bruger de som et ikkevoldeligt våben i syerskernes aktivisme. Og det giver pote.
“Jeg elsker Messenger Band - jeg har været til flere af deres koncerter - Og jeg er meget imponeret over, at de tør “ siger Rachel, der har arbejdet i Cambodja de sidste seks år for at skabe den bæredygtige tøjvirksomhed Tonlé’.
Rachels bekymring er ikke ubegrundet. I januar 2014 blev 23 fagforeningsaktivister arresteret i forbindelse med deres kampagne for højere løn. Og 5 omkom efter, at politiet havde affyret skud mod demonstranter.
Alligevel fortsætter Messenger Band ufortrødent med deres blanding af aktivisme og cambodjansk folkemusik. Alligevel trodser de forsamlingsforbud og synger til demonstrationer for en højere løn. Og Saem ved det gør en forskel. For det er ikke kun syerskerne, der kender Messenger Bands ørehængere.
”Nogle gange synger politiet med på omkvædet” griner hun og efterligner politiet ansigtsudtryk, når de opdager, at de rocker med. “Politiet glemmer, at de er kommet for at bekæmpe os” siger Saem med et triumferende smil.
Messenger Band, modellerne og hiphop drengegruppen samlet på scenen efter showet. Trætte, men tilfredse.
Foto: Len Ang
"Have you ever had a bad time in Levi's?" Svaret på mærkets kendte slogan er temmelig klart for Moa Chenda. Efter at have arbejdet i 7 år som syerske på Levi's leverandøren Evergreen Apparel i forstæderne til Phnom Penh, har den 27-årige kvinde kun ét ønske: at forlade fabrikken for at få en bedre løn - og et bedre liv.
Søndag 5. februar 2012. Vi møder Chenda under 'Tribunalet om leveløn og anstændige arbejdsvilkår', som er arrangeret af Asia Floor Wage Campaign med støtte fra Clean Clothes Campaign.
"I dag er en vigtig dag for os", siger Chenda, "for vi vil tale om vores løn i Cambodja, og mærkevarefirmaerne vil lytte. De vil høre om vores daglige problemer. Jeg håber, at det vil nytte og jeg er sikker på, det vil. For de ønsker ikke, at arbejderne går i strejke. De har en interesse i at lytte".
Chenda er født i Kien Svay distriktet i Kandal provinsen. Hun forlod sin landsby og sin familie for ni år siden for sammen med to veninder at arbejde i Phnom Penh's fabrikker. "I starten boede vi sammen, men nu er de begge blevet gift. Nu bor jeg alene uden nogen slægtninge omkring mig. Jeg vil også gerne giftes og have børn, men jeg har ikke råd til det. Hvis du gerne vil finde en mand i dag, skal du have penge. Det er den moderne måde at blive gift på i Cambodja!".
Efter at have arbejdet ni år i beklædningssektoren - 2 år for H&M og 7 år for Levi's – har Chenda kun 9 dollars på sin opsparingskonto. De penge, hun tjener på Evergreen, er langt fra nok til at dække hendes udgifter og spare flere penge op. "Jeg får mindstelønnen på 61 dollars. Med tillæg og overarbejde, kan jeg tjene op til 100 dollars. Måske 130 dollars, når jeg får en masse overarbejde. Fordi jeg er nødt til at sende 20-30 dollars om måneden til min familie, arbejder jeg over hver dag - nogle gange to timer, andre gange fire timer. Det afhænger af fabrikkens behov. Men vi får kun 2.000 riels [red.note: 50 cent] for 2 timers overarbejde. Det er ikke nok, og arbejdsrytmen er udmattende. I dag bliver jeg oftere syg på grund af træthed og mangel på mad."
Med et dagligt madbudget på 4.500 riels - lige over en dollar - er Chenda's skrøbelige helbredstilstand ikke overraskende. Dømt til at spise ris eller grød tre gange om dagen, lider den unge kvinde allerede af ernæringsrelaterede sygdomme.
"Sidste måned havde jeg et alvorligt glukoseunderskud, og jeg måttet bruge 25 dollars på behandling. Det er første gang det sker for mig. Jeg har haft almindelig forkølelse, men ikke noget så alvorligt. Da fabrikkens forsikring kun dækker arbejdsskader, måtte jeg selv betale det hele ... "
Femogtyve dollars: En formue, når du er nødt til at leve i Phnom Penh. "Livet er dyrt herovre. Hver måned skal jeg betale 20 dollars for mit værelse, plus 1,5 dollar for vandet. Elregningen afhænger af forbruget, men jeg plejer at betale 1 dollar om måneden. Jeg bruger ikke min ventilator, for så kan jeg spare penge, men når min familie besøger mig, er vi nødt til det på grund af varmen. De bor stadig i Kien Svay. Min mor er død og min far er for gammel til at arbejde. De penge, jeg sender, har afgørende betydning. Mine brødre og søstre tjener dårligt nok til at give deres egne børn mad. Det er ikke let for mig, for jeg skal også bruge penge på tøj, på vaskepulver, på sæbe og kosmetik ... Det koster mig mindst 15 dollars om måneden. Nogle gange har jeg intet andet valg end at låne penge rundt omkring for at klare udgifterne."
Afhængigt af hendes behov, låner hun mellem 5 og 30 dollars."Pengeudlåneren tager meget høje renter, så jeg forsøger at undgå stor gæld. Men i sidste måned var jeg nødt til at låne en masse penge for at betale behandlingen. Jeg spekulerer på, hvor mange penge jeg har brug for tjene for at undgå gælden. Hver gang vore ydelser eller lønninger forbedres, stiger fødevarepriser og husleje tilsvarende ... På den måde er det umuligt at spare. Jeg har brug for at spare flere penge op, hvis jeg skal forlade fabrikken. Jeg vil rigtig gerne være selvstændig skrædder. Det er min drøm. Jeg ønsker ikke at være underlagt nogen længere. Men jeg har brug for penge til uddannelse og til at starte forretningen en dag."
"Jeg hørte, at nogle fabrikker her omkring giver bedre lønninger. Jeg kunne søge arbejde der, men jeg vil ikke, for nu har vi kontrakter af ubegrænset varighed hos Evergreen [red. siden januar 2012]. Det har de andre fabrikker ikke. Indtil 2012 havde vi kun 3-måneders kontrakter. Jeg ved ikke, hvorfor ledelsen har besluttet at ændre det, men jeg ved, at det er gode nyheder. Nu kan jeg selv beslutte, om jeg vil blive her eller ej uden at frygte for fremtiden."
Chendas drøm kan tage lang tid før den bliver til virkelighed. Men indtil da har den unge kvinde besluttet at tage ansvaret for sin skæbne i egen hånd og deltage i Workers' Information Center (WIC), en cambodjansk NGO, der støtter kvinders selvstændiggørelse og lederskab i beklædningsindustrien.
"Hos WIC lærer jeg at udtrykke mine meninger, at stå frem og konfrontere folk, der ser ned på mig. Det giver mig et større selvværd. Jeg lærer også en masse om arbejdstagerrettigheder, social sikring og sundhedsydelser. Det er virkelig nyttige ting at lære. Det giver mig mulighed for at tale med mine kollegaer og med medlemmerne af fagforeningen om vores daglige problemer og de fremtidige løsninger. Det er vigtigt for mig - og for alle mine kollegaer på Evergreen ... "
Chan Sreyneth er helt ny i beklædningsindustrien. For mindre end et år siden kom den 20-årige pige sammen med sin bror og to søstre til Phnom Penh for at arbejde som syersker ved Wei Xin. Wei Xin er leverandør til Zara. Men krænkelserne af arbejdernes rettigheder er så omfattende, at de allerede har været i strejke to gange siden hendes ankomst.
"Hvor meget tjener jeg om måneden? Det ved jeg ikke. Ledelsen giver os ikke lønsedlerne, og når vi får dem, forstår vi ikke noget som helst af dem. Alt jeg ved, er, at jeg får 4,5 cents for hver 12 stykker tøj, jeg syer. Det er alt."
Denne påstand kan se overraskende ud, men Sreyneth er ikke et isoleret tilfælde i Cambodja. Ligesom Wei Xin fortsætter mange andre fabrikker med at drage fordel af den fattige, uuddannede og ofte uorganiserede arbejdskraft ved at nægte arbejderne deres basale ret til information.
I september 2010 gik Sreyneth og hendes kolleger i strejke i protest mod den praktiserede uigennemskuelighed. De har også protesteret mod ledelsens gentagne afvisning af at betale overarbejde og af at give kontrakter på længere tid end seks måneder.
"Vi står stadig over for de problemer i dag. I sidste måned havde vi ikke andet valg end at starte en ny 15-dages strejke. Det er svært at gå i strejke. Vi får kun 30 dollars, og vi er alle bange for, hvad der kan ske. Alle her er på kortvarige kontrakter, og vi kan nemt miste vores arbejde. Men vi har ikke noget valg. Heldigvis har vi en C.CAWDU-fagforening på fabrikken. De er der for at beskytte os. Før fagforeningen kom, foregik tvungen og ubetalt overarbejde hele tiden. Nu er det blevet bedre, men løn og kontraktspørgsmål er stadig ikke løst."
Med de problemer der er på Wei Xin med hensyn til manglende gennemsigtighed, ved Sreyneth ikke, om hun virkelig får mindstelønnen på 61 dollars eller ej. Som stykvis aflønnet syerske ved hun, at hun kan tjene op til 120 dollars om måneden, når hun arbejder hurtigt og tager overarbejde.
"Jeg kan få det beløb, fordi jeg arbejder hurtigt. Men mange kolleger får kun 80 dollars, fordi de er langsommere eller ofte er syge. Jeg er også syg, men jeg arbejder hver dag. Jeg har en misdannelse i næsen, som gør det svært for mig at trække vejret, og jeg lider af kronisk hovedpine. Jeg gik til lægen, og han sagde, at jeg havde brug for et kirurgisk indgreb. Men det vil koste 200 dollars, og jeg har ikke de penge. Derfor tager jeg traditionel medicin, som min mor køber i provinsen. Men det virker ikke."
Sreyneth's forældre bor i Koh Kong provinsen med deres yngste datter. Hver måned skal de tilbagebetale en rate af et lån på 2.000 dollars, som de har taget for at kunne købe en ovn til kagebagning og forsørge deres fem børn. "Da vi var børn, solgte vi søskende kager for at tjene nogle penge hjem. Nu, hvor jeg bor i Phnom Penh, prøver jeg at sende min mor mindst 50 dollars hver måned til tilbagebetaling af gælden og til at dække min søsters skolepenge. Men i sidste måned, kunne jeg ikke sende noget på grund af strejke ..."
For at spare penge deler Sreyneth et værelse med sin bror og to ældre søstre. "Det lykkedes os at finde et sted til 24 dollars om måneden, så hver af os betaler 6 dollars i husleje. Det er OK, og da det kun er 200 meter fra fabrikken, har jeg tid om morgenen til at studere engelsk. Jeg startede på engelsk for et par måneder siden. Jeg har også undervisning lørdag og søndag aften. Det koster 4 dollars pr. måned, men det er en god investering, hvis jeg ønsker at forlade fabrikken. Jeg har en kusine, der læste engelsk i et stykke tid. Hun mødte en amerikansk mand, der giftede sig med hende. Hun kunne forlade fabrikken, og hun har et bedre liv nu. Det er derfor, jeg også vil lære engelsk."
Et bedre liv. Langt væk fra de 2.000 riels [0,5 dollars], som hun kan tillade sig at bruge på sine daglige måltider. Et liv, hvor hun kan købe nyt tøj uden at komme i gæld. Et liv, hvor ingen vil råbe ad hende, når hun beder om at blive sygemeldt. Et liv, hvor hun frit kan bestemme, om hun vil være medlem af en fagforening, og ikke være underlagt forskelsbehandling og intimiderende adfærd.
"Lederne bad fornylig arbejderne om at sætte deres fingeraftryk på et blankt stykke papir. Ingen vidste, hvad de skulle med det. Men i dag ved vi, at dette dokument skal bruges som et "bevis" på, at vi har meldt os ud af fagforeningen. Det er et trick. Endnu en gang har de forsøgt at snyde os. Jeg nægtede at gøre det, men andre gjorde det. Det er ikke i orden."
"Det er derfor, vi har været nødt til at gå i strejke i de seneste måneder. Den sidste strejke sluttede for blot to uger siden. Jeg ved ikke, om det har ført til forbedringer. Men under alle omstændigheder er de begivenheder nyttige, for vi lærer at kæmpe for vores rettigheder. Vi ønsker at få vores lønsedler og forstå, hvad vi virkelig fortjener i løn. Det er alt, vi beder om."