CAMBODIA – Companies sign up to protect human rights
30 June 2010 11:04 am

At least 25 businesses last week signed
an agreement of principle to
ensure that their companies don't violate the rights of workers or the
18 June 2010, VOA News)

At least 25 businesses last week signed
an agreement of principle to
ensure that their companies don't violate the rights of workers or the

The agreement was signed during the first-ever meeting
between the
private sector, civil society, diplomats and government officials that
was aimed at promoting human rights in business.

The agreement
contained principles prepared by the Cambodian Center
for Human Rights and urges signatories to promote rights and an
adequate standard of living for workers and to eliminate
discrimination. It encourages employees to form and join unions and
exercise rights of collective bargaining.

Ou Virak, president of
the Center for Human Rights, said abuses
occur across Cambodia's industries, from commercial enterprises to real
estate, construction, garments and tourism.
Companies withhold
salaries, force long hours or illegally fire
workers, he said. In some cases, companies use state security forces to
push people from land to be used by their businesses.
"There are
consistent human rights abuses perpetrated by some
business people because, firstly, they want to make more profit to
enlarge their business and, secondly, because of a biased court and
corruption in society, which forces them into taking part in the
violation of human rights," he said.

Companies willing to sign
the rights agreement included business
associations, construction and transportation companies, tourism
agencies and private schools.

"If our staff is happy to work for
us, they will take good care of
their responsibilities, so it benefits both sides," said Quach Mengly,
president of the American Intercon Institution, who was among the
signatories. "If we respect their rights, it will motivate them to
provide a good service, but if we don't, we won't get any result."

companies said they were considering the measure, while others
said they did not need to sign an agreement in order to respect the
rights of workers.

In Channy, president of Acleda Bank, said he
didn't sign the
agreement because his bank has maintained principles of human rights
for many years. However, he said he did support the initiative.

from last week's signing were representatives from major
garment factories or real estate companies-those who typically face
protests from workers or residents.

In principle, Cambodia's
labor law incorporates principles of human
rights, including eight-hour workdays, proper salary, a healthy working
environment and respect for contracts.
In reality, rights groups
have documented work environments that
stifle worker rights to assembly and land rights for residents facing
evictions under developments.

"The government must act as an
arbitrator," said Thun Saray,
president of the rights group Adhoc. "But the arbitrators in our
society usually stand by the companies in order to receive some
benefits. As a result, companies don't care much about worker salaries
and working conditions, like in other countries. Other countries will
punish those companies, or shut those companies down, but that never
happens in our country."

Britain Ambassador Andrew Mace, who
attended last week's signing,
said it was timely to discuss human rights and business as beneficial
to all.

"A democratic society in which the rights of the
community and
individual are respected helps to grow markets," he said. "The
stability of the rights respected creates in businesses confidence to
invest. The free exchange of ideas in society creates intellectual
capital on which businesses can draw to innovate and improve their
competitiveness. Lack of respect for rights, on the other hand, creates
conflict that can seriously impact the profitability and
sustainability of the businesses."

Mace said to promote human
rights, the country needs to eliminate
corruption in state institutions and increase confidence in the courts.

officials, meanwhile, say they are working to improve
human rights.

Por Pheak, director of the Ministry of Interior's
relations department, said the ministry has a good governance project
that began in 2009 and will run through 2013 in an attempt to
strengthen transparency and reduce corruption in the private sector.