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PHNOM PENH – A group of industry bodies representing some of the largest apparel brands in the world, including Gap, H&M and ASOS, have sent an open letter to Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, expressing concern over a number of controversial labour laws and ongoing court cases against unionists.

The American Apparel and Footwear Association, amfori – Trade with Purpose, Ethical Trading Initiative, Fair Labor Association, Fair Wear Foundation and Social Accountability International represent US, European, and other major international brands and retailers, including more than 200 buyers who source Cambodian garments.

In the letter they also request amendments to the much criticised 2016 Trade Union law and ask the government to strengthen the Arbitration Council. Since the union law was passed, the number of cases heard by the council has – as many predicted – dropped markedly due to the laws law’s complex and demanding registration rules.

The letter warns that restrictions on freedom of association will make Cambodia an unattractive and expensive place to do business and also calls for an end to the harassment of labour activists.

Says the letter: “On behalf of international garment, footwear, and travel goods brands and retailers, we write to urge your government to immediately implement its October 16, 2017 commitments and make other key changes on labor law reform. Further, we write to express our growing concern over recent developments that not only seem to undermine progress towards improving worker rights, but also appear to have created an environment that has weakened protection of human rights.

“As such, we also urge your government to guarantee respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to provide full protection of all human rights defenders in your country. Political freedoms, rule of law, and enforcement of international civil and labor rights are essential for international trade and responsible business.”

Garment and textile exports from Cambodia reached US$6.3bn in 2017.

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