A 9 percent bonus quota in garment exports given by the US does not reward Cambodia enough for its efforts to improve labor conditions, Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said Sunday.
He insisted Cambodia deserved the full 14 percent bonus quota, instead of the 9 percent awarded for 2001, which is the same quota that was eventually given for 2000.
“The [labor] situation has dramatically improved, but the US government didn’t make a proper decision accordingly,” said Cham Prasidh, head of garment quota negotiations with the US.
Cham Prasidh also said the independent national labor monitoring committee, supervised by the International Labor Organization, should be the group that evaluates Cambodia’s working conditions, instead of a US team.
Unfortunately, he said, by the time the committee was formed, the US had already sent its own evaluation mission to factories.
“Just because the [monitoring] mechanism has not been in place, the US took advantage of it,” Cham Prasidh said.
The garment quota refers to the amount of merchandise foreign contractors can sell in the US market each year. The bonus quota system was established as an incentive for improving working conditions in exchange for an increase in the US market share.
The base amount is set by contract, and US labor officials can increase that amount by adding bonus percentages, based on their assessment of labor conditions. According to the three-year garment export agreement with Cambodia, the US may grant up to a 14 percent bonus quota per year, in addition to the 6 percent automatic increase in quotas if labor conditions are satisfactory.
Manufacturers bid on Friday for a share of both the 6 percent automatic increase and the 9 percent bonus quota, which raised $5.7 million for national coffers, according to the Commerce Ministry.
Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the 9 percent bonus quota shows the world that Cambodia is maintaining reputable labor conditions.
“It’s not free of charge…It’s a result of good behavior by factory management that spent lots of energy and efforts to comply with the labor law and maintain good labor conditions,” he said.
The garment industry is the single-largest industry in the country, generating $950 million in exports last year, which marked a $300 million increase from the previous year. About three-quarters of garment exports were shipped to the US.
Van Sou Ieng said the bonus quota would enable garment manufacturers to provide another 15,000 to 20,000 jobs in Cambodia.
Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said the country’s labor conditions have not improved notably, citing dozens of strikes late last year and early this year.
Chuon Mum Thal, president of the Cambodia Union Federation, said the bonus shows an accurate evaluation of Cambodia’s labor conditions.
“It’s a true evaluation that Cambodia’s labor conditions are not that bad and have improved significantly,” he said.
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