Nike fails garment workers
For years, garment workers at the Violet Apparel factory in Phnom Penh made clothing for Nike and other brands. In July 2020, the factory closed overnight due to a sharp drop in demand for clothing allegedly caused by the covid pandemic and lockdowns. Over 1200 garment workers, the vast majority of whom are women, were suddenly left without jobs and income. They immediately demanded to be paid their unpaid wages, and the severance pay to which they are entitled. So far Nike and Matalan, another brand for which the factory produced, are not taking any responsibility. Meanwhile, the clothing brands’ profits have picked up substantially.
"I lost everything I thought was possible to lose," says Ong Chanthoeun, who worked at the factory for 17 years. "It's hard to pay for my child's school or medical care for my family." Ong is a union leader and represents jobless garment workers. According to the law, employers must provide a notice period when they terminate their employees’ contracts. Someone like Ong who worked for Violet Apparel on a permanent contract for more than ten years is entitled to three months' notice or a severance payment of three months' wages.
The compensation Violet Apparel offered to the garment workers after the closure was too low according to Cambodia's labour law. As their employer refused to pay the outstanding amount the increasingly desperate workers turned to the buyers calling upon them to provide the remaining amount. So far, their pleas have yielded no outcome.
The contrast is very stark: on one hand, there is Nike that made a net profit of 1.3 billion euros in the first quarter of 2021. On the other hand, there are workers that contributed to Nike shareholders’ increasing wealth claiming four or five hundred euros per person, which is next to nothing for the sports giant.
Nike states that it is not taking any action because they claim the company has not done any business with Violet Apparel since 2006. However, the garment workers convincingly reveal through photos and documents that Violet Apparel was producing for Nike until 2019.
Violet Apparel is one of many subsidiaries of the Malaysian owned company Ramatex. Indisputably, Nike is sourcing from at least 15 other Ramatex facilities and therefore has a clear responsibility for the 1,200 Violet Apparel workers. According to international guidelines on responsible business conduct, companies have a responsibility to provide or contribute to access to remedy for the workers in their supply chains. Nike should also comply with this.
Pay Your Workers
Organisations within the Clean Clothes Campaign network sent letters to Nike, Matalan and other companies sourcing from Ramatex. In several countries, such as the US, Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands, street actions were organised and the case was covered in the media. The #PayYourWorkers coalition published the case on its website and started a petition on International Women's Day 2022.
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Some 800,000 people, mostly women, work in Cambodian garment factories for a minimum wage of 170 euros per month, while some labour rights groups have estimated the living wage in Cambodia to be 557 euros per month. The garment workers work between eight and ten hours a day, six days a week. As of April 2021 around 500 hundred factories closed their doors temporarily or permanently during the covid-19 pandemic, leaving hundreds of thousands of garment workers suffering from lockdown regulations. According to conservative estimates by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Cambodian trade unions, garment workers lost nearly €350 million in income as a result.