At least three garment workers in a suburb of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, have been killed by police while demonstrating for an increase in minimum wage to $160 a month. A human rights group, Licadho, says about 23 people have been injured during the protests on Jan. 3.
Cambodia’s garment industry is becoming the rallying point for a larger wave of discontent over the 28-year rule of Hun Sen, whose party keeps a tight leash on the country’s military, courts, and much of the media. Cambodia, once part of a UN initiative to improve its garment industry, was intended to be a model for other cheap clothing-producing nations. Now, as we’ve reported, protests from garment workers are increasing because of things like worsening fire safety standards and shoddy buildings.
This time, demonstrators and garment workers’ unions are calling for officials to double minimum wages, currently at $80 a month. They’ve rejected a government offer of $100. The protesters seem to have power in both numbers and significance to the economy. About half a million Cambodians help produce cheap apparel for retailers like H&M (paywall). Last year, these products brought in over $4.6 billion and accounted for 84% of Cambodia’s total exports. With that kind of leverage, workers could easily ask for more than just $160 a month, or about $7 a day, in minimum wages.