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A broad coalition of unions and community groups stopped a regressive labor law from passage in Cambodia—and a new Solidarity Center report shows how they did it.
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In Cambodia, the Solidarity Center works with Cambodian unions and other partners to protect worker rights.

Cambodian garment workers at an organizing rally. More than 300 garment unions have formed in Cambodia since 1999.

Decades of war and internal strife have left Cambodia's economy in distress. An intense struggle for worker rights is taking place in an environment where violence lurks around the corner for a new generation of union leaders and activists trying to organize and represent workers in the country's first democratic unions.

In 1997, with funding from the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Solidarity Center cooperated with the International Labor Organization to help the Cambodian government draft and pass a new labor law. The Solidarity Center, the AFL-CIO, and American garment union UNITE then worked with Cambodian garment unions to win a landmark 1999 U.S.-Cambodian textile compact that gave Cambodia access to the giant U.S. clothing market, on condition that it would comply with its own labor law and submit to ILO monitoring of factories.

Thanks to this high road approach, Cambodia's fledgling garment industry became a $1.5 billion powerhouse, employing 300,000 workers — 90 percent of them young women — as the main breadwinners for families all over the country. Over the life of the agreement, garment workers formed more than 300 unions. Recognizing Cambodia's worker rights record as the sole factor that distinguishes it from global competitors, Cambodia's unions, government, and garment industry have committed to keeping the ILO monitoring project alive. Hotel and service workers, construction workers, and teachers have followed the lead of their brothers and sisters in the garment industry, forming independent unions and winning recognition from their employers.

Trial for Cambodia Garment Workers, Union Leaders, Starts Today. April 25, 2014—A trial opens today for 23 Cambodian trade union leaders and workers in Phnom Penh Municipal Court for participating in rallies in January calling on the government to increase the minimum wage for Cambodia's ready-made garment workers.

AFL-CIO Calls for End of Violence Against Cambodian Workers. January 7, 2014—In a letter to Cambodia Prime Minister H.E. Hun Sen, the AFL-CIO condemned the Cambodian government's recent and ongoing violence against garment workers.

Cambodia: Owner Admits Negligence in Factory Collapse. May 20, 2013—At least 23 garment workers were injured today when a structure the workers used for rest breaks collapsed in Cambodia.

Cambodia: Brands Could Help Garment Workers Get Better Nutrition. January 24, 2013—Among the thousands of Cambodian garment workers who have fainted on the job over the past few years, many suffer from malnutrition, anemia and dehydration.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Meets with Cambodian Women Unionists, Defends Worker Rights. July 16, 2012—Following a private meeting in Cambodia with union leaders and labor activists, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged greater protection of worker rights, improvement of labor standards and the empowerment of women.
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