A consortium of leading clothing retailers have called on the Cambodian government to “conduct a full and transparent investigation” into a shooting of protesting factory workers in which the sole suspect is a governor, who is at large.
Puma, Gap, H&M and eight other groups expressed “deep concern” over the Feb. 20 incident, which occurred at the Manhattan Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in eastern Svay Rieng province, in a letter to Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce dated March 9 and obtained by RFA on Monday.
"During the unrest, three female workers of Puma supplier Kaoway Sports Ltd. were shot and injured," the groups, which also included American Eagle Outfitters, The Jones Group and Columbia Sportswear Company, said in the letter.
"We respectfully urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to conduct a full and transparent investigation ... and hold those responsible for injuring workers accountable," said the signatories.
The lone suspect in the case is Chhouk Bandit, the governor of nearby Bavet city, but his whereabouts are currently unknown. Rights groups have said that authorities were afraid to arrest him because of his ties to high-ranking officials.
Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an official sub-decree last week removing Chhouk Bandit from his post and a Svay Rieng court prosecutor summoned the suspect to testify in court on March 16. He was briefly taken in for questioning last week, but was later set free.
The shooting incident took place on Feb. 20 outside the premises of the Kaoway Sports Ltd. factory, leaving three female workers injured, one critically.
According to initial reports, an unidentified gunman dressed as a bodyguard opened fire on nearly 1,000 workers from three different factories who had been protesting for better working conditions, but escaped from the scene despite a heavy police presence.
Local rights groups said protesters had been demanding that management of the SEZ’s three factories raise their monthly wages by U.S. $10 per month to U.S. $71.
The three female employees, aged 18 to 23, were all treated at a nearby hospital for upper body wounds.
A brother of one of the victims injured in the shooting said a representative of Chhouk Bandit visited her in the hospital last week and offered her a cash settlement to drop a lawsuit against him, but she refused.
Cambodia’s textile industry, which is the country’s third-largest currency earner after agriculture and tourism, employs more than 300,000 people, mostly women.
Strikes and protests are not uncommon at textile factories, were laborers often work long shifts for little pay.
Days after the shooting, more than 2,000 workers from the Manhattan Textile and Garment Corp. in eastern Kampong Cham province threatened to block off a national highway if the firm’s management did not implement better working conditions mandated by Cambodia’s Arbitration Council.
Reported by Joshua Lipes.