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Is Cambodia’s violent garment strike the beginning of the end for cheap clothing?

A protest at a Cambodia factory making Nike clothing ended on Monday with at least 23 worker injuries, including a miscarriage, after riot police moved in. Around two thirds of the factory’s 5,000 workers had been on strike, asking for $14 in additional pay to assist with transport and healthcare, on top of their monthly wage of $74.

With Bangladesh’s garment industry in disarray following the Rana Plaza building collapse, Cambodia should be well positioned to win new business in the ultra-low-cost labor market. But it’s having troubles of its own, including two recent structural collapses resulted in the deaths of three people at a shoe plant and 23 injuries at a factory making clothes for retailer H&M.

Strikes in March led to a rise in the minimum wage of 20%, but workers’ demands haven’t stopped there. With Bangladeshi clothing suppliers being forced to improve working conditions and Chinese factories moving up the value chain, ultra-cheap clothing may soon be in short supply.

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