via Khmer NZ
By Richard Shears
27th July 2010
Riot police used electric shock batons to beat women sweatshop workers when they stopped producing fashion labels for the UK and other Western nations in Cambodia today.
The image of heavily-armed police in protective clothing using their shields and batons to crush a strike by poverty-stricken women workers will do nothing to improve the tarnished image of designer label companies who run Asian sweatshops.
At least nine women were injured when more than 100 police, more than half in riot gear and armed with assault rifles, tried to force 3,000 women workers back into their factory.
Batons out: Nine garment workers were injured today in clashes with riot police in Phnom Penh as officials tried to end a week-long strike over the suspension of a local union official
Some women, who earn less than £1 a day, fell to the ground where they were attacked and stunned by police batons.
Workers in Cambodian sweatshops have risen up in recent protests against low pay and harsh working conditions, but today's walk-out was over the suspension of a local union official.
The factory, on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, is owned by a Malaysian firm and produces garments for the big names of fashion and sport - Gap, Benetton, Adidas and Puma. The factory contributes to Cambodia's clothing, textiles and shoes exports which were valued at more than £1 billion last year.
Police used shields and electric shock batons as they tried to force workers back into the PCCS Garments factory, which produces items for companies including Gap, Benetton, Adidas and Puma
All four clothing and sporting companies linked to the factory have come under severe criticism from investigators for the harsh conditions endured and low wages given to their Third World employees.
Reports by charities such as Oxfam have found that the apparel industry, whether for designer labels or for garments that carry the names of big sporting companies such as Adidas, Nike and Puma, uses and abuses sweatshops.
Oxfam points out that workers in developing countries are paid minimal wages and are often forced to endure long hours in harsh and often dangerous conditions producing some of the world's most expensive and coveted brands.
The Cambodian garment industry has been plagued by strikes over low pay and working conditions. Most employees make less than $100 a month and many receive a monthly wage of as little as $50
It is the sportswear and garment industry that employs mostly women - and the demonstration at the Cambodian factory yesterday was evidence of that as by the hundred they poured out of the premises in support of their suspended union official.
Riot police rushed to the factory after a court order was given to them to clear the roads and force the women back to work.
The brutality the women suffered brought an end to their strike and they returned to the factory, part of an estimated 300,000 people who work in the garment manufacturing sector.
When they have saved enough of their meagre wages, they send what they can back to their impoverished rural villages, where people struggle on as little as 50 pence a day.
Temporary reprieve? Police managed to bring the demonstration to an end, and union leaders are now talking to the workers about calling off their action