PHNOM PENH – Garment workers in Cambodia are being coerced by their employers to vote in July’s general election, or face possible consequences, including potentially losing their job. Workers are being encouraged to vote for former Khmer Rouge commander, Hun Sen, head of the Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). Sen (pictured here with Vladimir Putun) is said to be the only credible contender at the election, with other parties on the ballot box allegedly puppet parties of the CPP, or too small to garner significant votes.
News that garment workers are being pressured in this way is sure to alert officials from the EU who are said to be closely monitoring Cambodia’s benefits via the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP), an agreement whereby Cambodian goods reach the crucial European market tariff-free.
The garment industry makes up more than two thirds of of Cambodia’s exports and employs almost 850,000 people. It is a sourcing destination for many leading global apparel brands.
Reports from Asia suggest Hun Sen has put serious effort into winning over garment workers, giving rally speeches at factories and promising cash gifts to those in attendance.
Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) says several factory workers said they have been coerced by employers to cast their vote of “face consequences” despite their party of choice, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), being dissolved last year.
According to Human Rights Watch: “Prime Minister Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for over three decades through violence, politically motivated prosecutions, and widespread corruption. The ruling party-controlled courts are used as a tool against the political opposition and critics. Fear of losing national elections in July 2018 prompted a major crackdown. The primary opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved by the courts, with one leader, Sam Rainsy, forced into exile and another, Kem Sokha, jailed. The government restricts independent media and civil society groups through forced closures, threats, intimidation, and arbitrary detention. The government regularly suppresses protests and bans public gatherings.”