After two weeks of unprecedented strikes by garment factory workers, Cambodian authorities launched a crackdown on Thursday, sending in troops in riot gear to violently disperse protesters. Witnesses report that dozens of people were injured, including monks who had come out to support the factory workers. Our Observer says that Cambodian workers are shockingly underpaid to make clothing for large Western brands.
For months now, the Cambodian opposition has been calling for new elections, after alleging voter fraud in last July’s election, in which long-ruling prime minister Hun Sen was re-elected. The main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has courted the country’s approximately 400,000 garment sector workers by promising that they would double the minimum monthly wage from the equivalent of 80 US dollars to 160 dollars (58 to 116 euros). On Tuesday, the government announced they would raise the minimum wage, but only by 15 dollars. This outraged the garment sector unions, who rallied to the opposition and launched a massive strike.
Cambodia’s garment sector is worth about 3.6 million euros. It is the country’s largest employer, and its biggest source of much-needed foreign income.