Korean garment companies in Cambodia are suing the head of Cambodia’s opposition party and a union for USD 10 million in losses from a strike and subsequent protests. And the Kyunghyang Shinmun doesn’t like it one bit.
Technically, the lawsuit is being raised by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), but the Kyunghyang notes it is Korean companies that have been driving the lawsuit (with Chinese and Taiwanese companies tagging along for the ride—how’s that for cross-strait cooperation!). Unionists have been striking to see their minimum wage immediately doubled to USD 160 a month, and things have been getting ugly, with police killing five protesters and Cambodian special forces being called in to protect a Korean-owned factory.
The Kyunghyang blames Korean garment factories for doing in Cambodia what companies do in Korea—trying to crush labor with big lawsuits. The Kyunghyang is right that this is often used as a way to negate workers’ right to strike, and the ILO has been asking Korea to do something about this for years. I am sympathetic to arguments that sit-down strikes and factory occupations are essentially the illegal seizure of private property, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway, according to the Kyunghyang, the protests grew worse—and led to bloody repression—because the GMAC, including Korean companies, refused to negotiate on the wage increase and threatened to move their factories elsewhere. The Kyunghyang worries that the inhumane behavior of some Korean companies overseas might not only harm Korea’s national image, but also bring about something even worse. It also calls on the government to demand that Korean companies in Cambodia respect international standards and universal human rights (Marmot’s note: to be fair to the Korean companies, seeing how they’ve been joined by the Chinese and Taiwanese, it seems they are behaving to international standards, at least as far as respect for labor rights is concerned).
BTW, if you think this has nothing to do with you readers in the States, guess where a lot of this clothing is going:
Nam-Shik Kang, managing director of Phnom Penh-based Injae Garment Co, which employs 3,500, said that despite the new plan, he stood to lose out on profits.
“Our factory currently has a full capacity of orders to fill by February, most of it being material equating to about three million garment pieces. We will send to partners in either Indonesia or Vietnam . . . This is a huge quantity and a very big disaster for us and for others,” said Kang, whose South Korean factory supplies Wal-Mart and JC Penny.
“Even if we ship part of our shipment, about one million pieces, we will incur shipping costs of about $200,000 or even $300,000. And it will not even solve the problem.”
Meanwhile, it appears North Korea’s Mansudae art studio sunk about USD 10 million into building the Grand Panorama Museum near Angkor Wat. North Korea is hoping it might yield profits when it’s done, and at any rate, Pyongyang has something of a special relationship with Cambodia:
At first, it’s hard to imagine why any country would commission an isolated, autocratic government to build a museum of culture in a tourism hotspot. But for Cambodia, whose head of state once called North Korea’s iron-fisted founder “brother”, the news is not so surprising. The mercurial former King Norodom Sihanouk, who in the 1970s was a figurehead for the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, forged a close friendship with Kim Jong-Il’s father, Kim Il-sung, who ushered in a similarly brutal communist regime. Between 1979 and 2006, Sihanouk made numerous retreats to Pyongyang, where he relaxed in a 60-room royal palace and shot amateur films.
The “special relationship”, as it was referred to in a US diplomat Wikileaks cable from 2006, has since faded, following the deaths of both Kim Il-sung, in 1994, and Sihanouk, in 2012. The Cambodian government’s attention has turned to South Korea, the country’s second biggest investor. Nonetheless, Cambodia still holds the dubious accolade of hosting the world’s second highest concentration of North Korean overseas operations, after China.
The country is already home to three outlets of the government-run Pyongyang restaurant chain, and a fourth is on the way. The North Korean women who staff them and perform nightly dance shows are believed to be kept inside, under surveillance, and subjected to gruelling rehearsal schedules. The Kathmandu branch, closed in 2011, was found to be a North Korean spy base. Both the restaurants and Mansudae art studio are believed to be at least partly managed by Kim Jong-Il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui, wife of Jang Song-thaek, who was publicly purged and then executed in December.