Cambodia: Labour rights group CENTRAL targeted for reporting on violations against unions


Cambodia: Labour rights group CENTRAL targeted for reporting on violations against unions

Source: Civicus

CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)  condemn the harassment and smear campaign against the labour rights group, The Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), for a report they published on unions and freedom of association in Cambodia. These actions highlight the repressive climate for civil society in Cambodia and the challenges activists face in documenting and reporting on human rights issues.

On 4 June 2024, CENTRAL released a report following a one-year study, titled “Barriers to Representation: Freedom of Association in Cambodia”,  which evaluates Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) and whether their current processes appropriately assess and adequately report on employer-imposed barriers to freedom of association. In the report, union representatives from 10 out of 14 workplaces said they faced violations of freedom of association. They include verbal intimidation, threats, harassment, obstacles to union registration, restrictive strike and collective bargaining policies and blacklisting, which “severely” affected their ability to function.

Following the report, CENTRAL has come under attack from pro-government unions, who have organised protests outside their office, demanding that they ‘’correct’’ their report. CENTRAL has also been accused of receiving foreign funding to “destroy peace and stability” in Cambodia. The groups also called on the Ministry of Interior to monitor and review CENTRAL’s activities.

On 24 June, it was reported that the Ministry of Interior was planning to launch an investigation into CENTRAL’s operations and the use of foreign funds.

The work of CENTRAL in monitoring, documenting and reporting labour rights is critical in Cambodia, in ensuring that the government and businesses adhere to international law and standards and protect the rights of workers and unions. It is extremely worrying that these groups are seeking to undermine and seek greater government control of the organisation. These actions send a chilling message to human rights groups undertaking their work in the country.

The attacks against CENTRAL highlight the repressive civic space environment for activists, trade unionists and civil society. An array of restrictive laws have been used to target people critical of the government and the 2015 Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), imposes excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of association.

In May 2024, a number of UN member states made recommendations at the UN Human Rights Council, calling on Cambodia during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to ensure an enabling environment for labour groups, human rights defenders and civil society.

It is disturbing that just a month after its human rights record was reviewed, a leading labour rights group is being targeted for undertaking its legitimate human rights work. Our organisations call on the international community to speak up and stand in solidarity with CENTRAL and other civil society groups and activists facing harassment or criminalisation.

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