Nike and Ramatex should pay workers in Cambodia

Photos: Clean Clothes Campaign

Leading labour and human rights organizations are demanding sportswear giant Nike end its standoff with Cambodian garment workers and pay the $1.4 million in unpaid wages and termination benefits owed to them since the closure of the Violet Apparel factory in 2020. The Violet Apparel factory is owned by Nike’s primary manufacturing partner, the multi-million-dollar conglomerate, Ramatex Group. 

A July 20 statement from Cambodian and international trade unions and labour and human rights organizations was published following a report issued by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) which points to Ramatex, and in turn, Nike’s responsibility for ensuring 1,284 Cambodian workers receive the compensation they are legally owed.

Nike has hypocritically justified Ramatex’s continued refusal to pay workers by hiding behind a legally invalid ruling by Cambodia’s Arbitration Council, even though Nike joined with other major brands in 2018 and 2019 in raising concerns with the Cambodian Government about the diminishing independence of the Council and threats to labour rights in the country. Human Rights Watch cited that the biased Arbitration Council outcome demonstrates that is is politically compromised. The WRC report details how the excuse used by Ramatex to dismiss workers without paying them full benefits was invalid.

“The WRC report shows what we knew already: Ramatex and its biggest buyer Nike must ensure these workers are finally compensated. There is no legal ground that justifies their inaction and they cannot appeal to a flawed institution for protection”, said Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU).

Additionally, Nike is shamelessly denying that its goods were produced at Violet Apparel for years, despite the conclusive evidence presented to them, including photos of Nike thread lists, labels, and internal documents, as well as consistent, credible testimony from all workers that they produced Nike goods for years. 

“Ramatex Group not only has the legal obligation to compensate the workers, they and their biggest buyer Nike have the financial means to do so. Companies sourcing from countries like Cambodia should stop benefiting from a strong labour law on paper being so poorly enforced, leaving their workers without social protection. And let’s not forget they tried to get away with this during a pandemic”, said Niki Gamara, Clean Clothes Campaign’s South East Asia Urgent Appeals Coordinator.

Hong Seng Knitting, Thailand

The Violet Apparel case is not unique. Nike has also failed to ensure workers are paid what they are legally owed at another supplier factory in Thailand.  In 2020, when the Hong Seng Knitting factory furloughed 3,360 workers, the factory did not pay partial wages as required by law. The workers are now owed more than US$800,000, according to the WRC. Nike continues to defend the employer’s decision not to pay the workers, insisting that workers chose to voluntarily forgo their legally owed wages. The WRC, however, reported evidence of worker coercion, including intimidation and retaliation when the workers protested and reported wage theft to the police. 

Ramatex Group has since opened another factory, Cassia Garment, with Hong Seng Knitting, which also supplies for Nike.

Nike has acted against its human rights commitments and its own code of conduct - this is why human rights and labour rights organizations around the world have come together to say enough is enough.

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