International Group Demands Severance for Shuttered Factory’s Workers

An international alliance of NGOs has started a campaign to urge two prominent U.K. clothing retailers and a Canadian brand to compensate 208 factory workers who lost their jobs when the Chung Fai Knitwear factory abruptly closed a year ago.

The Clean Clothes Campaign wants Marks & Spencer, Bonmarche and Nygard to pay $550,000 together to cover the worker salaries and severance pay required by law, according to a statement released by the alliance on Tuesday.

A woman protests outside Marks & Spencer’s office in Phnom Penh over unpaid factory wages in February. (Emil Kastrup/The Cambodia Daily)

“International pressure and public awareness can make a difference,” said Dominique Muller, director of policy at NGO Labour Behind the Label. “If we weren’t hopeful, we wouldn’t do it.”

Despite a year of protests in Phnom Penh, which included a demonstration outside Marks & Spencer’s office in the capital in February, Chung Fai workers have struggled without severance pay, and some have taken out loans with no means of repayment, the statement says.

Marks & Spencer and Nygard have continued to deny Chung Fai was a supplier, it says. A representative at Marks & Spencer’s Phnom Penh office declined to comment.

According to the statement, Bonmarche has said its clothing “could have been made at the factory” and no new orders would be placed with its supplier until the case is resolved. A campaign spokeswoman said the supplier, China Key, worked for both Bonmarche and Marks & Spencer and had unofficially subcontracted to the Chung Fai factory. Bonmarche did not respond to questions on Wednesday.

Subcontracting is common in Cambodia’s garments manufacturing industry, making it difficult to track where orders are being filled.

Sok Phany, a legal officer at NGO Solidarity Center, said assets left behind at the bankrupt factory accounted for less than 10 percent of what is needed to cover the Hong Kong factory owner’s obligations.

In February, the Labor Ministry filed a complaint against four Chung Fai worker representatives for “inciting” employees after they blocked a road. Khorn Chiven, Kim Sothea, Khouen Chanthon and Cheun Socheat have been summoned for questioning on Monday.

The Clean Clothes Campaign calls itself “a grass-roots network of hundreds of organisations” founded in 1989 to advocate for workers’ rights. Its international office is in the Netherlands.

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