Global brands face growing labour militancy in Asia

DHAKA, September 19, 2010 (AFP) – Global retailers fleeing China’s rising labour costs now find themselves facing growing pressure for higher wages in countries from Bangladesh to Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Indonesia. The latest sign that workers are becoming more militant in their demands for a larger share of the region’s economic success came in Cambodia last week, when tens of thousands of workers went on strike.

The mass protest rejecting a proposed 20 percent pay increase crippled Cambodia’s export-orientated garment industry, which produces items for renowned brands including Gap, Benetton, Adidas and Puma.

The strike followed a deal between the government and industry that set the minimum wage for garment and footwear staff at 61 dollars a month. Unions want a base salary of 93 dollars.

“Workers are having difficulties surviving on their low wages,” Kong Athit, secretary general of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, told AFP.

The Cambodian action came just weeks after Bangladesh’s three million garment workers, who make Western clothes for the world’s lowest industrial wages, spurned an 80 percent pay hike, attacking factories and burning cars.

Tens of thousands of workers who sew clo