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GMAC makes EU plea to consider job losses

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Garment workers in the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone. Post pix

GMAC makes EU plea to consider job losses

In a statement set to be published on Monday, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) said the EU’s possible withdrawal of Cambodia’s Everything But Arms (EBA) access would harm 750,000 workers and three million families.

The GMAC statement, seen by The Post on Sunday, came as European Commission legislators were set on Monday to end six months of monitoring and engagement stipulated under the EBA withdrawal procedure, first enacted by the EU in February.

The EU is set to present a report to Cambodia providing its conclusions after a further three-month period, after which a final decision on Cambodia’s EBA status would be made.

“GMAC again wishes to appeal to the EU legislators and officials and all interested stakeholders in the EU that a suspension of EBA benefits for our sector will result in large job losses across the garment, footwear and travel goods labour force and would not serve the EBA programme objective of poverty eradication and sustainable development.

“It would also be a sad and regrettable outcome for GMAC and its workforce, which has done so much to advance the role of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in monitoring labour compliance, not only in Cambodia but in our sector in other countries in the world,” GMAC’s statement said.

The GMAC, which represents 580 garment, footwear and travel goods production facilities in the Kingdom, said Cambodia has greatly benefited from EBA since 2001.

It said that concessions offered through EBA had lifted millions of Cambodians out of poverty and significantly contributed to the Kingdom’s economic and social development.

Exports from Cambodia to the EU totalled €5.3 billion ($5.8 billion) last year, with more than 95 per cent included under the EBA. Of this, €4 billion was in clothing and textiles – two industries which are set to be the hardest hit if the EBA is withdrawn.

GMAC also highlighted that it was the first association to welcome the UN’s ILO to inspect its factories for compliance with national and international labour requirements.

It said it would continue to improve its compliance record and support international public scrutiny on labour compliance and supply chain due diligence in partnership with international brands’ sourcing from Cambodia.

“GMAC has submitted supportive evidence to respond positively to the EU’s concerns and to demonstrate the progress and compliance record of our sector with laws and ILO standards, and to determine that EBA benefits should continue to be granted to our exports,” the statement said.

Outgoing EU ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar said earlier this month that the EU Commission would share their conclusions with the Kingdom within three months, with Cambodia then having one month to respond before a decision is made.

“Within three months, the Commission will share those conclusions with the Cambodian authorities who will have one month to respond.

“Following that, a decision will be taken by the Commission whether to suspend some or all of the Kingdom’s preferences under the EBA trade regime,” Edgar said on August 1.

Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina said workers, unionists and others benefiting from the programme wished to see the EU maintain Cambodia’s EBA access.

“The withdrawal of EBA would have a large scale effect on job networks in Cambodia. So, I hope the EU considers this and preserves EBA for Cambodia,” he said.

Sina said he saw three areas of concern that initially prompted the EU to launch the EBA withdrawal procedure in February – political freedom, human rights and labour rights.

“In the labour sector, for instance, one thing we have seen is that the government has complied with EU conditions in dropping charges against union leaders, as well as making changes to the trade union law, which we requested improvement on,” Sina said.

But, he said, the government needed to respond to other EU requirements, including addressing concerns over political freedom and human rights. Sina said if progress was shown in these areas, the EU would consider maintaining Cambodia’s EBA access.

Political analyst Em Sovannara said the EU had made clear that it is the Cambodian government who holds the key to maintaining the Kingdom’s EBA access.

However, he said he did not believe the government had responded to the EU’s concerns for the Kingdom’s human rights situation.

Sovannara said the ongoing court-supervised house arrest of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha and the arrests of CNRP activists were only worsening the situation.

“The government wishes to maintain EBA, but we have not seen sufficient action in response to international demands. EBA cannot be preserved if we do not respond to their requirements,” he said.