(Preliminary?) Success for the Right to Organise at H&M Supplier in Cambodia

10 union activists achieved reinstatement to their jobs after seven hard months fighting River Rich Textile Ltd., Cambodia. River Rich is part of HongKong based Addchance Holding, producing knitwear, for H&M and Inditex, among others.

Reacting to the formation of an independent union in October 2006, River Rich fired 117 workers. 30 of them took up the fight for reinstatement with support of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU). In Februar 2007, an agreement between River Rich and the union was signed by management.

But when it came to implementation of this agreement, River Rich started obstructing massively. Using double tactics, River Rich first offered large severance pay to union members who resigned from reinstatement, which 20 of them accepted. The remaining 10 activists then became subject to a series of threats and intimidation activities. When the union reacted by organising protests, management called the police who increased pressure on the workers by using batons on them and shooting in the air with their guns.

Only after an international solidarity campaign, supported by the international union federation ITGLWF among others, the February agreement between company and union was at last implemented in June 2007. The remaining 10 workers were reinstated and paid their back wages.

A concrete frame of cooperation between company and union was agreed upon. Time will show if the implementation of this agreement will work smoothly and sustainably. The company’s respect of this agreement will probably depend on the (international) attention the union can continually raise for their case.

This sceptical view is based on the context that the fight for the Right to Organise is extremely dangerous for Cambodian activists. Only the most visible aspect hereof, and tip of the iceberg, is the sad fact that three unionists, fighting for the Right to Organise and better working conditions in Cambodia’s garment industry, have been murdered within the last three years.