12 February 2020 – The European Commission announced today a partial withdrawal of trade concessions to Cambodia under its preferential trade arrangement, Everything But Arms (EBA). The decision came after a long period of ‘enhanced dialogue’ initiated by the EU in order to pressure the Cambodian government to stop persecuting opposition leaders and to roll back other authoritarian measures.
Cambodia ranks in the lowest category of the ITUC Global Rights Index and contributes significantly to the global race to the bottom on labour protections. Following years of trade union campaigning, and the imminent threat of EBA withdrawal, a recent reform of the country’s Law on Trade Unions still failed to address key demands to bring the law into conformity with the ILO standards and to protect freedom of association and the right to organise. The government has continued to file charges against trade union leaders and organising or joining a union in garment factories and other sectors is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous. Anti-union discrimination is rampant.
With Cambodia being a major beneficiary under the EBA, the partial withdrawal is a test for Europe’s trade policy and its impact on human rights. The ETUC and ITUC welcome the EU decision to withdraw trade preferences to Cambodia.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said: ‘The Cambodian government is fully responsible for the withdrawal of benefits and we regret its lack of commitment to Cambodia’s working people. The government and companies doing business in the country must finally listen to the concerns of workers and act to ensure that freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are fully respected. The trade benefits should only be restored once the government changes its course on democracy and labour rights. The EU should increase pressure on Hun Sen’s government in order to promote sound labour protection and stop prosecutions of trade unionists.”
Luca Visentini, ETUC General Secretary, said: “We support the decision of the European Commission to lift trade preferences for Cambodia. We have always advocated a strong EU stance on the international stage to respect labour rights. EU trade preferences should only be given to third countries with strict conditions on the respect for labour rights. This is the basis for fair globalisation”