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The NGO asks for apparel brands to apply pressure on the country to ensure Cambodia meets its obligations on human and labor rights.
PHNOM PENH--Human Rights Watch Thursday called upon Cambodia to meet its obligations to international human rights in response to the European Union [EU] partially suspending its Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trading agreement.
“The trade preferences unilaterally granted by the EU are based on the requirement of adherence to international human rights standards,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Hun Sen has publicly and defiantly refused to take steps to address the EU’s concerns, even launching a sham treason trial against the leader of the opposition in the final stages of the EU’s deliberations, leaving the EU with no choice but to take this action.”
This came into effect after the European Commission reported that Cambodia was guilty of, the commission stated, “serious and systematic violation of principles laid down in certain international conventions,” and decided to apply tariffs to roughly 20 percent of the country’s exports to the EU. The partial withdrawal of EBA will deny quota-free and duty-free access to the European market for certain products, notably garments, textiles and footwear, which made up some 86 percent of Cambodian exports to the EU in 2018.
The EU statement goes to say that trade preferences and benefits of the EBA agreement could be reinstated, but only if Prime Minister Hun Sen meets the EU’s criteria on labor and human rights.
“Hun Sen is responsible for the ruthless crackdown on dissent and human rights across the country, which forced the EU to follow its own rules and suspend some EU trade benefits,” Adams said, adding that Hun Sen could show he cares about Cambodian workers, by complying with the EU’s criteria as well as the demands of international companies sourcing from Cambodia, whom he encouraged to speak out about labor abuses.
When reached for comment on Adams’ statement, Ek Tha, spokesman for the Council of Ministers referred enquiries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Kuong Koy, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also deferred to the government's official statement issued on Feb. 12, offering no additional comments on how Cambodia and the EU will move forward to address the issues of human and labor rights.
Adams’ call for international brands to apply pressure has already been met with express support from the H&M Group, who, on Feb. 12, released their own statement in support of the EU’s decision “to address serious human and civil rights violations in Cambodia.”
This sentiment is echoed by Pisey Piseth, senior director of programs at Transparency International, who underscores the need for reform in Cambodia.
“Human rights indexes in Cambodia have been low and even decreasing recently as shows the Freedom House index with a score of 26/100 (0 being least free),” he said Thursday.
“According to Amnesty International, with the opposition party being banned, its members being mistreated and high corruption persisting and the judiciary system of Cambodia…being misused at the expense of its citizens, it is unlikely to change the perspective of the international community,” Piseth said.