Beyond Cambodia's garment protests

Could Cambodia's striking garment workers be the foot soldiers of political change?

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  1. Garment manufacturing for western companies like Adidas, Nike and Levis is the backbone of Cambodia's economy, making up 80 percent of exports. So when garment factory workers walked off the job demanding higher wages, they caused alarm for the Cambodian government.
  2. Thousands of workers abandoned their machines in December to demand a raise from their monthly $80 minimum wage. The government first offered to raise pay to $95, then $100. But strikers and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said only $160 would be fair pay.
  3. The strikes deepened criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government and gave new life to the opposition movement's call for new elections. Critics accused Hun Sen's ruling Cambodia People's Party of stealing last year's vote, ignoring Cambodians' call for new leadership to alleviate endemic poverty and corruption. The prime minister said he won the election free and fair and accused the opposition of stoking unrest. Frustration spilled into the streets of Phnom Penh.
  4. On January 3, violent clashes between security forces and protesters turned deadly. Human rights workers say at least five Cambodians were killed. 
  5. Many online condemned the violence.
  6. In an Al Jazeera interview, opposition MP Mu Sochua criticised the violence, describing the frightening scenes on the streets of the capital.
  7. Cambodian Police Fire on Protesters as Clashes Turn Violent HD VİDEO
  8. The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia and foreign companies such Adidas, Puma and Levi's signed a letter voicing concern about the clashes. 
  9. “Our primary concerns are for the security and safety of the workers employed by our suppliers and the long-term stability of the Cambodian garment industry,” the companies said in the letter. “The only way to resolve this dispute is to cease all forms of violence, and for stakeholders to enter into good-faith negotiations.”
  10. The clashes in Phnom Penh sparked demonstrations worldwide, with protesters speaking out against what they say was the unnecessary use of violence to suppress protests.
  11. Cambodian Protest Phillip's Square Montreal 011
  12. The Cambodian government, however, defended its crackdown on demonstrations, saying the opposition was "disrespecting the country's laws," which prompted the forceful response. Heng Samrin, chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly, explained the government's position:
  13. "The Cambodian People's Party will do whatever to defend the constitution and the royal government of Cambodia that was formed through an election,"
  14. Hun Sen later said the country could not afford to pay garment workers the $160 they're demanding right now. He used an anecdote from Facebook to explain his viewpoint:
  15. “Someone posted this comment on Facebook: If the children cry out for more rice, the father should beat them—but the father doesn’t beat them, and only tells the child: ‘You can have one more ladle. As our family is poor, wait until we become a bit more rich and then father will feed you fully,’”
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