Independent Worker Rights Organization CENTRAL faces attacks in Cambodia


The Center for the Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) recently published a report on freedom of association in the garment industry in Cambodia and was confronted with a smear campaign and false accusations shortly after its release.

The report specifically evaluates the processes used by the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program, analyzing whether these processes appropriately assess and adequately report on employer-imposed barriers to freedom of association. The report is at times critical of the effectiveness of these processes and comes with a set of clear recommendations on how to improve the program to ensure workers’ right to freedom of association is better safeguarded. The findings of the field research and the recommendations were shared with BFC prior to publication of the report.

Pro-government unions, seemingly unaware of the exact content of the report, are now claiming that the report does not reflect the real situation of trade unions and freedom of association in Cambodia and is harmful for existing and future investment. This language, typically coming from employers organizations rather than worker representatives, can also be found in the letters of petition requesting an investigation into CENTRAL’s operations and finances that over 15 different pro-government unions have filed with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI).

In those letters of petition, CENTRAL is accused of illegal activities for which foreign funds have been used. These false accusations pose a serious risk for the future existence and operations of the organization, as similar investigations in the past have led to temporary or permanent suspensions of other independent organizations operating in different sectors in Cambodia. It is clear that the report is being used as a pretext to undermine and attack CENTRAL, and to further restrict the democratic space for civil society organizations to exercise their right to freedom of speech, which is an enabling right that is essential for exercising freedom of association.

This smear campaign against CENTRAL fits in seamlessly with the wider repression against labour and human rights advocates in the country. Civic space for trade unions and other labour rights organizations has been increasingly limited in Cambodia for a number of years, particularly following the introduction of the Trade Union law in 2016. The current attacks on CENTRAL appear to be a coordinated and a well-planned effort to eliminate yet another independent voice in Cambodia’s civic space.

MSN, as a member of the Clean Clothes Campaigns, joins the Cambodian and international human and labour rights organizations standing in solidarity with CENTRAL and supporting its fight against these false accusations.

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