Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday urged [press release] the Cambodian government to take steps to stop the threats and intimidation of garment factory workers who are seeking to assert their labor rights through the formation of unions. Currently, Cambodia's garment industry represents USD $5 billion per year in exports and supports 400,000 jobs. Factory owners and managers reportedly use tactics such as threats, firing and temporary employment contracts to keep their employees from forming labor unions. HRW argues that the garment factories' anti-union behavior acts in violation of the freedom of association, guaranteed in the country's constitution, a well as international agreements [texts]. The advocacy organization urged the Cambodian government to turn its attention to upholding labor laws rather than focusing energy on quieting protesters. International clothing brands have also stressed the right for unionization in an open letter [text] to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The political atmosphere in Cambodia has been tense since last year's elections. In January the International Labour Organization (ILO) [official website] called for cooperation amongst all parties involved in escalating violence in Cambodia, demanding a release of detained union strikers and a government probe into anti-protest police tactics [JURIST report]. Earlier that month the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged [JURIST report] Cambodian authorities to exercise restraint when dealing with protestors. Days beforehand, Cambodia banned rallies and marches [Al Jazeera report] in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, and authorities removed more than 1,000 anti-government protesters [BBC report] from the capital the same day. Phnom Penh's governor Pa Socheatvong further stated that until "public order is restored to normal," the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party would not be permitted to hold demonstrations [AFP report].