If you have been following our blog, reading the news, or tracking with any of the MCCers in Cambodia you know, you will likely have read that garment factory workers in Cambodia have been holding massive strikes and demonstrations to ask for an increase to their minimum wage to $160/month. These strikes and protests have been met with violence, that has left 5 dead, 39 injured, and numerous imprisoned. It’s easy for all of us to feel discouraged & paralyzed in the face of so much injustice and oppression. This is not a problem unique to Cambodia, but sometimes it’s helpful to isolate one issue, and work out action steps from that. In that context, the following is a list of:
10 Things We Can All Do to Support Justice for Garment Factory Workers in Cambodia.
1) Pray. Often, prayer is found last in action lists, as if prayer is left only to the resigned. Yes, there are times when prayer without action is hollow, but there is also a time for Christians to say that we believe that the Kingdom of God is living & active & advancing in our world. This means that miracles of all sorts can happen, including transformed lives, attitudes, behaviours, and relationships. Join us in praying earnestly that leaders in Cambodia would have great compassion for the marginalized and those in poverty. Pray that that compassion would combine with wisdom to create a positive way forward that combines long term policy change that benefits all of Cambodia.
2) Be Informed. Learn more about where your clothes come from! The issues surrounding the garment industry is causing great harm in Cambodia. Did you know that the garment sector accounts for more than 80% of Cambodia’s exports? That in 2013 the average Cambodian garment factory worker earned a minimum monthly wage of $75, plus a $5 health bonus. That the minimum wage in Cambodia is just 21% of what the Asia Floor Wage calculate to be a living wage for the country? Check out this page for more information.
3) Encourage the Cambodian Church. Do you know any Cambodian Christians? Do you know any Christians working in Cambodia? Write to them. Call them. Facebook them. Ask them how the Church in Cambodia is responding to these injustices, how they are being the hands and feet of Jesus to those suffering around them.
4) Consider Your Own Consumption Habits. We, in the West, are the demand side to this equation. The more clothes we demand, and the lower prices we ask for, the greater the pressure for garment factories to produce more and pay less. There are a lot of other factors involved here, including middlemen, local owners, corruption and local government policies. But the factor that you can mostly directly change is YOU. Are there ways you can curb your consumption in this area? Are there ways you can change your lifestyle so that you buy these products less frequently? Can you be creative with second-hand options?
5) ACT. Obviously, you will not be able to buy absolutely everything you need at a thrift store and the garment industry is not going away, nor should necessarily be advocating that they should be. (There is a solid case to be made for the economic development these international companies can bring to a developing country, particularly as an avenue to employ young people looking for a skilled trade.) The current model does help many people in Cambodia, but it needs to improve. Garment workers are not currently paid a living wage and that is not healthy, sustainable, or ethical. Therefore, we need to use our collective voices as consumers to tell both the international brands, the local factory owners, and the government that we find the status quo unacceptable. That as consumers, we want to buy clothing products with a clear conscience, and we would be willing to pay more if we knew that the modest increase in price was ensuring a living wage for the people making our clothing. This pressure works!
6) Write [Act Part 1]. The top five brands sourcing from Cambodia are H&M, GAP, Levi Strauss & Co, Adidas and Target. Do you purchase clothes from these companies? Take some time to write a letter to these brands. Post to their facebook page. Email their Corporate Responsibility staff. Let them know that you are a customer and that you are concerned about what is happening in Cambodia. The Clean Clothes Campaign has a simple online petition you can sign here. Let us know if your comments below how you took action.
7) Join Up [Act Part 2]. There are people all over the world forming networks & trying to advocate for better labor standards in the garment industry. Find them. Follow them. Support them. You can start with checking out the Clean Clothes Campaign & Labour Behind the Label, & Better Factories Cambodia.
8) Talk about It [Act Part 3]. Start a conversation about this topic. Talk about it at your dinner table, church, bible study, local library, etc. Find people who live near you & brainstorm ways you could work together encourage each other in your consumer habits and to take action steps to address the injustices you see. To get you started, find a great lesson plan from the NYT with ideas for talking about this issue with youth here, & a video after the factory collapse in Bangledesh from PBS with discussions here.
9) Support Human Rights Researchers and Journalists. The garment industry and its partners would like to keep stories of insufficient wages, poor working conditions, and violence against garment factory workers trying to exercise their rights hidden. We can thank local and international media, as well as human rights organizations for bringing these stories to light and for taking big risks to make sure this information is public. But this kind of work is not free. Consider how you can expand your giving to include human rights and other awareness raising groups. Need ideas? Cambodian Legal Education Center, Licadho, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, & Labour Behind the Label have all done good research in Cambodia.
10) Encourage a Human Rights Activist. Do you know someone who is working with human rights issues Cambodia? If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you know someone who is working with MCC in Cambodia. Have you written to them lately? Have you encouraged them in their work? Have you prayed for them? Work in the human rights sector can be discouraging and exhausting. Encourage the people you know who are on the front lines of that promoting human rights. Let them know they are not alone.
Pray [again!] #1 is important! This kind of injustice and violence is real and can seem intractable, but we believe in a God who transforms and restores. Pray for wisdom as you reflect, discern & decide how you will act.