The anti-sweatshop movement has been revitalizing and exploring a new form of localized transnational collective action: A Peoples’ Tribunal on the Minimum Living Wage and Decent Working in Cambodia. The idea of People’s Tribunals is not new and has originated in the human rights area. Among the first international People’s Tribunals, which examines and provides judgments on violations of human rights was the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal founded in 1976 in Italy. Since then People’s Tribunals have spread as an action repertoire for human rights activists through a range of countries in order to promote justice and mobilize victims of human rights abuses independently of the state judiciary. Its goals have been about popularizing the notion of justice; educating the public; encouraging debate on human rights issues and democratizing legal processes. Therewith it is a legalistic, but soft instrument to provide justice in cases where the state has failed to do so.
In the area of labor rights violations, it is a rather new adoption of this instrument. In Cambodia it has been used to investigate the violation of labor rights, in particular the poverty payment. Its aim it to improve the working conditions and raise the wage level in in the Cambodian garment industry.
Between the 5-8 February 2012, a hearing has been organized in in Phnom Penh in which over 200 garment workers testified on mass fainting, slum living conditions, malnutrition, debt, repeated short term contracts and dismissals of 1000 union leaders after a sector-wide strike. International brands such as Adidas and Puma could present their evidence on their role as buyers. Other brands such as H&M and Gap refused to attend the hearings.
The case of the Cambodian People’s Tribunal can be understood as the result of an effective organization of transnational collective among a range of different actors from a variety of countries:
It has been organized by the International Asia Floor Wage Alliance and the Asia Floor Wage Cambodia, a campaign alliance which aims to bring a decent minimum living wage for the garment workers across Asia since 2007.
In Cambodia the main organization of the tribunal has been arranged by the Asia Floor Wage Cambodia, a coalition of several Cambodian unions and NGOs. Internationally the Tribunal is supported by the Clean Cloth Campaign Network, the biggest anti-sweatshop network in Europe.
After two days of hearings, five judges from different continents concluded that “the situation of workers in the Cambodian garment supply chain presents severe deficits which correspond to a systematic violation of their fundamental right to a decent human life” They have made the following verdict:
International supply chain actors should take immediate steps to address the issue of poverty wages. Brands “should move beyond “good intentions” and “recognize and prioritize the need for human rights in the workplace in their pricing and procurement policies.” Furthermore the judges also made recommendation to the Royal Government of Cambodia, such as to “clearly specify the “right to a minimum living wage” within national legal frameworks and “to ensure that trade unions are able to freely organize, represent workers, and bargain collectively.
The AFW Alliance has organized its first tribunal in Colombo, Sri Lanka (27.-30.3.2011), and plans to host additional ones in India and Indonesia on the “the right to minimum living wage as a fundamental human right“, which will provide a comprehensive picture of substandard working conditions and poverty wages in Asia. The tribunals provide a way to initiate national discussion about the underpayment of garment workers; internationally, it provides anti-sweatshop movements with further ammunition to pressure global corporations to take responsibility for their practices and to push for a redistributive corporate accountability agenda.