Cambodian workers on hunger strike against Walmart & H&M
February 28, 2013
Self-organized garment workers at a Walmart and H&M supplier factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, have been camping in front of their shuttered factory for almost two months to prevent their bosses from taking out the sewing machinery.
Now the workers have escalated to blocking roads, and will launch a hunger strike February 27—all to push Walmart and H&M to pay them the back wages they are owed. Their cause is drawing support from workers at another Walmart subcontractor on the other side of the world.
“We decided to go on hunger strike to show that we not just any workers,” said one of the leaders, Sorn Sothy, 26, who works in the warehousing part of the Cambodian factory. “We are strong, committed, and united.”
The workers were informed in September that their factory, Kingsland Garment Co., Ltd., would temporarily close until January. Under Cambodian labor law, they would be paid 50 percent of their wages during this time, and brought back to work in January.
But in December, the paychecks stopped coming. The company union told the workers that the company was bankrupt and the owner had fled the country.
The garment workers are owed around $200,000 collectively—less than what Walmart makes in profits every six minutes.
Since their boss-run union wouldn’t fight back, 200 workers organized themselves and began protesting outside the factory gates January 1. In the middle of the night January 3, they noticed company staff attempting to remove the sewing machines from the factory.
“We decided to start sleeping outside of the factory to prevent management from taking the machinery out,” said Yorn Sok Leng, 30, who has worked at the factory for two years.
With the help of a worker center, the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), the workers occupied the outside of the factory—setting up tarps, a sleeping area, and a kitchen.