'Encouraging Signs of Improvement' Found at Cambodian Garment Factories

The International Labour Office is reporting "encouraging signs of improvement" of working conditions in some 30 garment factories located in Cambodia that produce apparel for sale in North America, Europe and other developed countries.

The "Third Synthesis Report on the Working Conditions Situation in Cambodia's Garment Sector" provides an overview of progress made by the factories in implementing suggestions made by ILO monitors. The monitoring was done under a technical cooperation project established following an agreement signed in January 1999 by the governments of Cambodia and the United States and amended on Dec. 31.

The report said recent monitoring found no evidence of child labor or sexual harassment in the factories. While some problems remain, the report found improvements in ensuring freedom of association and the right to organize, the correct payment of wages and ensuring overtime is voluntary and within legal limit. The report also found that a substantial number of factories implemented suggestions made by the project, noting that if these efforts continue, "there is room for optimism that the working conditions in those factories will further improve."

"We are pleased to note that this ILO project is directly contributing to the improvement of working conditions for Cambodian garment workers," said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. "This provides sound support for one of the ILO's basic tenets: that employers, workers and governments can work together for the benefit of all concerned."

The latest three-year trade agreement on textile products offers a possible 18 percent annual increase in Cambodia's export entitlements to the United States, provided the government of Cambodia supports the implementation of a program to improve working conditions in the textile and apparel sector, including internationally recognized core labor standards, through the application of Cambodian labor law.

The garment factories in question employ some 21,000 workers, of whom about 19,000 are women. Overall, Cambodia has some 200 garment factories that employ 200,000 workers. About $820 million in exports were to the United States, according to the Cambodian Development Resource Institute (CDRI).

The basic goal of the monitoring project is to improve working conditions in Cambodia's textile and apparel sector through monitoring, legislation and increasing awareness of Cambodian labor law and core labor standards developed by the ILO.

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