Cambodia’s Financial Mainstay: The Textile Workers Protest Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Political “Repression and Low Wages”!
I occasionally write a blog that relates to issues that may not seem important in a world rife with headline grabbing tensions, conflagrations and instabilities. Such is the case with this post which attempts to address the concerns of my readers in Cambodia who have caught my attention with their recent political protests.
As I have mentioned in the past, I had been involved in the 1991 Paris Peace Conference on Cambodia which officially ended Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia and as a result eventually installed Prime Minister Hun Sen as the leader of the Cambodian People’s Party. Recently, Hun Sen correctly criticized America for our ‘double standard and triple standards’ when it comes to Missouri’s handling of the Ferguson unrest.
(see article posted earlier by Khy Sovuthy)
Of course, it would be easy for me to make all kind of pretentious pronouncements about the relatively autocratic rule of Hun Sen. However, I would offer to compare his handling of “CPP’s disputed election victory as well as meager wages in the garment industry…. At least five workers were shot dead by military police…” to decades of Khmer Rouge/King Sihanouk’s dysfunctional tenure where millions of Cambodians were murdered.
Through kleptocracy, Hun Sen brought limited foreign investments and the expert courting of China into a financial vortex that created a booming economy that could become one of the main textile manufacturers in ASEAN [Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanamar, et. al]. The issue for the Cambodian people is one that results from a concentration of wealth and power in a small group of elites which controls this textile industry through 600 factories spread over the country. The garment industry in Cambodia amounts to 80% of its exports ($2.65B).
The average Cambodian garment worker made $80-$95 per month, compared to Bangladesh which paid $38 per month and Vietnam which paid $89-$123 per month, making Cambodia a highly sought after manufacturing-export market. However, Sam Rainsy, the leader of the anti-government Cambodia National Rescue Party has claimed electoral fraud and demanded the garment wages be raised to $160 per month.
Hun Sen conceded to give the workers $100 per month. But Sam Rainsy and his cohorts demanded that 30,000 workers strike in the streets [accompanied by violence]. And they did. Now, Cambodia has what one would euphemistically call ‘political uncertainty’. These labor strikes in the streets of Cambodia are a far cry from the auto genocide of the Khmer Rouge where 1.2 million Cambodians killed each other. Caution should be taken on both sides of this political confrontation. Allow Hun Sen to make certain concessions which workers should accept if they want to be competitive in the low wage world of global textile industries.
However, when we appointed Hun Sen as the new leader of Cambodia, it was not intended that he become a deity or ruler for life. We had that nonsense with the French created Sihanouk Family. It is now time for Hun Sen to step down and allow a younger, more enlightened Cambodian civilian to rule the country in the 21st century. We Americans have trained his son at West Point. Yet, I would strongly hint that a military succession will not benefit the Hun Sen family … nor the Cambodian people.
I see this internal struggle as part of the normal growth process that all new nations have to pass through in order to become a viable nation-state… whatever that form might take. Remember, Cambodia, all you have to do is to look back at the history of the American Garment Industry in the 1900’s-1940’s till WWII broke out to see how America solved it’s own Garment/Textile Internal War.
Good luck, Cambodia!! Please practice restraint and compromise …. On both sides!!!