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Posts Tagged ‘factory’

Sounding on Cambodia, January 25 2012

In sounding on January 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Happy New Year, everyone!  The Chinese Year of the Dragon is here, and many of us in Southeast Asia will catch up in April!

Just a few days ago, Cambodian unionists held a small ceremony at Watt Langka in Phnom Penh near the Independence Monument, to remember Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia president Chea Vichea, who was murdered just outside the temple’s walls on January 22, 2004. A wonderful film has been made about his murder and the aftermath, which drew some international attention to Cambodia’s apparently hopeless judiciary. FTUWKC seems to have eliminated their old website, and replaced it with a new, more frequently updated site, here. Twitter. Facebook.

We’re still experiencing mass faintings at factories in Cambodia. Noise has been made about fixing the situation, but it’s unclear to me what concrete steps are being taken.

One of my favorite Cambodia-related blog posts of the last year has to be Alison in Cambodia’s excellent post on the “Navel of the Village,” focused on Lovea. Lots of excellent photos, and a wonderful opening to the topic. Go look!

The Center for Khmer Studies has announced a new conference, June 9-10, 2012, on the topic “Religious studies in Cambodia: understanding the old and tracing the new.”

Northern Illinois University will be hosting the International Cambodia Studies Conference in September (14-16), 2012, in Rockford, Illinois, on the theme: “Imagining Cambodia.” Deadline for abstracts: March 15.

A new issue of the journal of Contemporary Aesthetics is devoted to “Art and Aesthetics in Southeast Asia.” All content is free, peer-reviewed, and online. Go check it out.

Archaeologists excavate sculpture workshop in Angkor,” says the headline over at the Southeast Asian Archaeology newsblog. Maybe this will help keep the criticisms of contemporary art workshops in tourist centers in contemporary Cambodia down? Nah, probably not. Very cool find, however.

The International Federation for Human Rights has released its regular summary of the Human Rights situation in Cambodia (2010-2011). Here’s the summary:

In 2010-2011, the space for civil society continued to shrink, with increased limitations on the freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly, in particular through unfair and illegitimate judicial proceedings. Human rights defenders, operating in an increasingly restrictive legal environment, found it extremely difficult and risky to denounce human rights abusers and bad practices, while peaceful demonstrations were prevented or violently dispersed. Also, acts of intimidation continued. In addition to NGO members, many trade union leaders, land rights activists, community leaders and journalists faced fierce retaliation for documenting and denouncing abuses.

Some folks know me as someone with a rather obsessive interest in peasantry and farming. There’s an absolutely excellent, short essay from Henry Saragih, the secretary general of the Indonesian Peasant Union and the general coordinator of the International peasant’s movement Via Campesina, on CNN, about Indonesian Farmers. Most of the general trends apply directly to Cambodia, or indeed peasants everywhere. Since over 80% of contemporary Cambodians have primary work experience in peasant rice production to this day, it’s worth considering. Speaking of farming, is contract farming good for farmers? Could be: according to a new study, noted on the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog.

“Terrible Karma” Cambodian Female Garment Worker Song, with translation

In khmer on August 10, 2010 at 1:26 pm

From a story by Uon Chin, Radio Free Asia, accessed on August 9, of a union rally in Phnom Penh, from July 25, of an estimate 5-7 thousand unionists.  A very sad song by female garment workers, titled “Terrible Karma.”  I typed out the song lyrics, and have included a first attempt at a translation (I am a bit intimidated by poetic translation, and found some of the lines difficult; suggestions for correction would be lovely, in the comments), below, after the break….

[update August 27, 2010: conversations with Chanroeun Pa, of  Cambodian Translation Link and Trent Walker of the Ho Center of Buddhist Studies at Stanford University have helped me amend some of the lines; thanks, Chanroeun and Trent!  The good things below are owed to the composers of the song, the bad things that remain are my fault.]

បទ «កម្ម​កំណាច​ឫស្សា» Read the rest of this entry »

Sweatshop Workers Speak Out! National Tour Kicks Off at Macalester College, Twin Cities IWW Offices

In comment, faculty on April 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

National Sweatshop Workers Tour Kicks Off at Macalester College, IWW Headquarters

April 21, 2010


Kalpona Akter, of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS), paying her respects at the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, in which 146 workers, overwhelmingly women, died because their factory was locked from the outside.  In February 2010, 21 workers died in a similar fire in a Bangladeshi Factory Fire.

Kalpona has been working in sweatshops since she was twelve. Coming from already-desperate poverty, she spent a few years thinking of her exploitation in relatively benign terms: “I thought I had a good job! I worked for them, and they paid me money!” Even though, as she described moments later, she was working non-stop, for 23 days at a stretch, and living on the factory floors. At the age of twelve, she live with her family about 5 days a month between ‘shifts.’ It wasn’t until Kalpona heard about Bangladesh’s formal – and rarely enforced – labor laws that she realized her job was actually a horrendous violation of what other people thought her rights should, and could, be. Today, Kalpona is a union activist working at Bangladesh Center for Worker Soldarity (BCWS).

Along with Zehra Bano from the Home Based Women Workers union in Pakistan, Akter kicked off a national speaking tour on Friday at Macalester College. The “Sweat Shop Workers Speak Out!” tour is organized nationally by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and Sweat Free Communities (SFC), and was organized locally by the Twin Cities Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, ‘the wobblies’) and Macalester College Religious Studies.  At many of the stops, other associated events will also be held. In the Twin Cities, an evening benefit concert was held for the workers by the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union with its local headquarters in Minneapolis’ historic Grain Belt Brewery Bottling Building in Northeast Minneapolis.  Local bands Cloves and Big Strong Men performed, along with performances from the Hype Dance Troupe, and DJ sets from DJ Colin of Spinner’s Suite.

Zehra Bano, of the Pakistani Home Based Women Workers’ Union, represents women who sew soccer balls in their homes,
according to piece-work rates.

Kalpona’s experience – moving from a situation of such desperate exploitation and poverty that she herself didn’t even realize it – is emblematic of the situation of workers in Sweatshops and Export Processing Zones (EPZ) around the world:  it was not until Kalpona discovered that laws existed protecting her as a worker that she felt emboldened to question the conditions of her labor, and to struggle to have those conditions improved.  The tour she and Zehra are now on addresses precisely the disconnect between nice words and good laws, and their lack of associated action and enforcement. Read the rest of this entry »

Sounding on Cambodia, March 19, 2010

In sounding on March 19, 2010 at 9:18 am

Funded by the US State Department and the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, Undercover UXO is designed to run on the “One Laptop Per Child XO laptop.” The game will provide a consequence-free learning environment that teaches kids how to identify UXOs and report them to inspectors.

  • A lay nun burned herself inside the confines of Watt Ounalom in Phnom Penh.  If you click through, beware that the photo is pretty horrific. The reasons for this tragic action remain unclear, though there is a lot of speculation; the woman, whose current status has not been reported to my knowledge, was taken to Calmette Hospital.
  • Anne Elizabeth Moore has another excellent article on Cambodian Garment Workers. Moore has a relatively privileged perspective here, having lived as a dorm supervisor for a few months in Cambodia for the Harpswell Foundation.  The article, a followup to the last one written by Moore at Truthout, focuses on the Messenger Band, a band composed of current and former garment workers.  There’s audio on the site as well – go check it out! I cried at my computer when I read this part:

Members of the Messenger Band

Members of the Messenger Band

As garment factories close, more and more women enter the sex industry by working at the karaoke bars. You have a song about this.

Vun Em: When the factories close down, some girls will go to become entertainment workers, and HIV will spread out around. But why don’t [the NGOs] care about their living life? Why they don’t care about their family? Why they don’t care about the security of those people? Why they care only about HIV? [She starts to cry.] I don’t know, I don’t understand.

We also care about HIV, but you have to think about the lives of the people, not only HIV. If the people don’t have enough food to eat, if they don’t have enough education, if they don’t have good health, how can they prevent themselves from the HIV? They don’t have time to think about HIV, they only have time to think, I need food, I need food. All the time.

Sounding on Cambodia for March 10, 2010

In sounding on March 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Raymond Robertson on Better Factories Cambodia

In notice on March 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Macalester Economics department Professor Raymond Robertson speaks on the Macalester Talks podcast series, about his work with the International Labor Organization (ILO) project in Cambodia, called Better Factories Cambodia. Long-time readers (yes, I’m talking to both of you) realize that I have a long-standing interest in Cambodian economy and labor.

Most Recent Podcast Episode

Professor Raymond Robertson, economics, talks about his work with Better Factories Cambodia. Many factories in developing worlds have poor working standards. The program has enlisted many large scale retailers in their efforts.

listensubscribe in iTunesvisit podcast archive

Macalester College.

Southeast Asia Sounding: 1/18/2010

In sounding on January 18, 2010 at 11:20 am

Cambodian Garment Factories Closing: Debate about causes, None about effects

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2008 at 10:08 am

Garment Factories closing, fast. Alarm bells? Phnom Penh Post:

Cambodia’s garment exports to the US – the Kingdom’s largest foreign textile market – totaled US$1.8 billion in the first nine months of 2008, slightly down from the same period last year, according to data from the US Department of Commerce.

Last year, the sector exported $2.9 billion worth of garment produced in 319 factories that employed more than 380,000 workers, according to figures from Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce.

But some 30 garment factories have closed their doors so far this year, leaving nearly 20,000 workers unemployed, said Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC).

The effects of these wide-spread layoffs could be devastating for many impoverished families in the countryside, for whom the monthly salaries of relatives working in factories are one of the few sources of income available to them.

The Cambodian garment slowdown is rooted in the US recession, which has seen sharp drops in clothing sales, industry officials say.

US retailer sales tumbled in November, the worst monthly decline in almost four decades, according to Bloomberg, and the Dow Jones US Retail Index is down about 28 percent on the year.

Nuon Veasna, an employee education coordinator for the International Labour Organisation in Cambodia, said the increasing effects of international market turmoil has made it more difficult for unions to protect workers rights.

“It has always been difficult to demand worker protections from employers, but it has become harder as purchase orders continue to fall,” he said.

But Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers, says Cambodia’s garment sector has remained largely unaffected by international markets.

“For me, I do not believe the global economic crisis has affected factories much because the industry has made a lot of
progress recently,” he said, saying instead that the decisions by individual investors to close shop in Cambodia were to blame for the layoffs.

“The closing of garment factories is the result of long-time investors who want to pull out of Cambodia … in order to escape legal confrontations with their workers,” he said.

“I remain sceptical as long as there is no confirmation from relevant ministries or [national auditors] that factories have closed because of the global crisis,” he said.

Reasons for the growing decline in garment sales might vary, but the effects are not in dispute.
Sitting on a hammock beneath a plastic tarp, 29-year-old Se Thy has created a makeshift camp in front of Phnom Penh Garment City Ltd in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.

He represents 500 workers seeking compensation for lost wages.
“I have been waiting here for 10 months since the factory closed,” he said.

Cambodian Exports Down (To the US)

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2008 at 2:31 pm

This is not good news. From Xinhua, via KI-Media

In the last three months of 2007, apparel exports to U.S. were 352 million U.S. dollars, 30 percent below the 2006 level, according to the ministry.

In the first three months of this year, exports to U.S. slipped1.44 percent compared with the same period last year, to some 500 million U.S. dollars, it said.

But wait, there’s more:

But overall, Cambodian apparel exports have increased slightly,4.78 percent in the first three months of this year over the same period last year, because of rising demand in Europe and Canada, it added.

Exports to EU have been on the rise since 2003, a trend that has been bolstered by the falling dollar, said Kaing Monika, external affairs manager for the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia.

Oh, and also:

Rising production costs in China have worked in Cambodia’s favor, as buyers search for alternative sources of clothing, he added.

brief: garment workers gain +$6/month raise offer

In Uncategorized on April 7, 2008 at 4:36 pm

Early news noted that immediately prior to the threatened strike, a local cartel of factory owners had caved to demands and even upped the ante by going them one better: though the union’s demand was a raise of $5 per month, the bosses offered $6.

I have no idea what would have made them respond so desperately, but I’m eagerly soliciting opinions. This potentially reveals a greater cleavage in the manufacturing interests than I had previously suspected, and I can’t put my finger on where that cleavage is. One possibility is discussed below.

But first, here’s the IHT article.

The FTUWKC page hasn’t been updated with news, which could be the result of the workers taking a well-earned break from organizing in celebration, or because the owners are being recalcitrant to put their last-minute offer into contracts.

This is the only option I can really envision as a possibility right now: that the factory owners were so spooked by the very real threat of a nationwide, multi-industry strike, that they added a dollar to the offer in order to prevent it. This would be extraordinary: in negotations, it is almost always sufficient to meet demands in order to prevent a strike.

The problem here was that the offer was last minute; perhaps the bosses figured out too late how seriously this strike was organized, and over-reacted in their tardiness. I was in Phnom Penh in January, and in just two casual visits and discussions with union officials, it was apparent that this was an extremely well-planned action.

Because of the lateness of the offer, not all workers returned to work immediately. Although the union managed to get in touch with local and factory organizers in the vast majority of instances, a number of workers were out, especially in the morning.

Are the factory owners now attempting to use that as leverage to reduce the offer?

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