About 30 representatives of the Cambodian Confederation of Independent Trade Unions went on strike in front of the Adidas company in central Phnom Penh, urging large overseas companies to take responsibility for the loss of workers’ benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic by establishing support funds for workers.
The union coalition sent a letter to Adidas this week demanding greater accountability for the conditions of workers at Adidas-supplying factories, as well as alleged union-busting and wage theft.
The letter calls on Adidas to “sign a legally binding agreement to pay back to workers in Adidas’ supply chain who have been denied their full wages during the pandemic” and to contribute to a Severance Guarantee Fund for workers to claim compensation from the brand in the event their employers fail to provide legally owed severance.
“We want Adidas to be responsible for the workers who are sewing products for Adidas,” said Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU). “First, Adidas should pay the workers during the period when the company closed and dismissed or suspended the employees without paying them properly.”
Sophorn said that in order to ensure liability for the loss of workers’ benefits, Adidas should set aside 0.01% of the value of the group’s purchases from each Cambodia-based factory so that when the factory closes workers can receive fair compensation according to Cambodian labor law mandating severance pay and seniority benefits.
In one case, 500 Cambodian workers were unlawfully fired by Hulu Garment at the beginning of the pandemic and have since demanded more than one million dollars owed to them.
In 2022, at least 490 factories closed or suspended operations, affecting more than 40,000 workers, according to CATU’s data. Ministry of Labor spokesperson Heng Sour has said that by the end of February 71 factories had closed, affecting 32,023 workers.
Worker-led efforts to improve employer compliance with Cambodian labor law by forming unions has often led to retaliation, Sophorn said, adding that the Ministry of Labor has not provided sufficient support
“The workers live in a bad condition with low wages and when they create the union they are dismissed, so I want Adidas to ensure to make work’s life better and respect worker’s rights,” Sophorn said. “When we use our right to form [unions], some company workers are fired and suspended.”
Ministry of Labor spokesperson Heng Sour could not be reached for comment.
Sportswear worker Lek Sopheak, who has been employed for 10 years at an Adidas-producing factory in Ang Snoul district, Kandal province. Sopheak claimed that workers at the factory had suffered abuses, such as unfair dismissals and a hostile work environment.
“I expect this big supplier [Adidas] will pay attention to our problem, because it is the first well-known brand in the world, so I want Adidas to pay attention to the workers and all the benefits [we are owed], while they are working hard for their products,” Sopheak said.
“The temperature is hot and the roof leaks,” she said. “And the factory dismissed six workers without paying them their [severance and seniority] benefits.”