Hy Vuthy, a union organizer with the Free Trade Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTWUKC), has been shot and killed in yet another daylight killing in Phnom Penh. Although it’s pretty obvious who the major suspect should be (see below), I can almost guarantee you that (a) no one will be arrested, and (b) in the unlikely event someone is arrested, they will not be the guilty party.
Hy Vuthy was an organizer at the Suntex Garment factory, owned by Oceansky International, which produces clothing for, among others, Gap and Banana Republic (both owned by Gap, Inc.), DKNY, and Enyce.
This is the third successful murder of a prominent FTUWKC unionist in Cambodia since January 2004, only a month after I first started working in Cambodia. Chea Vichea was murdered in a brazen assassination [Picture of Chea Mony leading the protest following Vichea’s murder here], followed short months later by the murder of acting FTU president Ros Sovannareth. Licadho, a human rights organization based in Cambodia, wrote in their 2006 report on “Attacks on Human Rights Defenders” that
the most serious group of cases reported during the first 10 months of 2006 concern members of the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTU) at the neighboring, and commonly-owned, “Bright Sky” and “Suntex” garment factories in Dangkor district of Phnom Penh. Throughout 2006 FTU representatives at the two factories have lobbied hard for improvements in employment conditions, particularly relating to contract periods. Their efforts have met with a series of serious threats and brutal physical assaults. (9)
And they provide the details, in a case study that focuses on this brutal institution. During May 2006 (the same month that Ros Sovannareth was murdered) alone, FTU organizers at Suntext suffered no less than 4 separate brutal attacks. Despite all of this, brave organizers continued to attempt to exercise their legal rights to organize collectively at work. Em Chhay Tieng began to organize there, and immediately began to receive death threats. Again from the Licadho report:
“They threatened me and Samon from the same phone number. They told us to stop being with the Free Trade Union and find another job… if you still continue, the end result will be death. I told them that I absolutely wouldn’t stop, I only just started. Before, this position was given to a woman who works on a dayshift, but she was threatened and beaten in the face. Then she resigned, she was afraid that she would be strangled and killed. And I replaced her. Ever since then I was threatened, as Samon and I worked at night together and when Samon wasn’t there I would replace him to help the workers… they come to me if Samon is absent or sick, they don’t go to other people.”
In June of 2006, Lay Sophead, a FTU unionist at a different factory, was kidnapped, beaten, bound, and left for dead. She survived, and continues her work.
These unionists are doing some of the most important work in contemporary Cambodia – they have a broad vision of social justice, refusing the ethnic and racial hostility of the political parties, and refusing to limit their organizing work to traditional ‘bread and butter’ wage jobs. This generation of organizers grew up on farms and moved to factories – they know, better than most, how the privatization of the commons and the destruction of natural resources is directly related to the situations of heteronomy and domination in which they toil, and they express solidarity with farmers as well as factory workers.
Got a minute? follow the links to the US brands above and write some emails. Be polite, and tell GAP, Inc., DKNY, and Enyce, that you will refuse to purchase their clothing until they achieve substantial reductions in the violence and murder coming out of their factories in Cambodia.
OneWorldAction has a page on Cambodian unionism, including nice interviews with Chea Mony and another with Rong Chhun, president of the similarly radical Cambodian Independent Teacher’s Association (CITU)
The Cambodian Confederation of Unions also has material on all of the above.
Amnesty International has an entire page of reports on Cambodia, of course, including lots and lots of press releases and studies relating directly to anti-union murders, especially the murder of Chea Vichea in early 2004.
And my small but growing list of FTUWKC links is growing here at del.icio.us
More stories on the murder of Hy Vuthy in Cambodia, as he rode home from his work at the Suntex garment factory.