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You won't believe why this factory worker was fired

“They would call workers in and would get upset when they found out someone was pregnant, and then they would fire those that were pregnant.”

That’s how the above video from Human Rights Watch starts, with a Cambodian factory worker describing the discrimination pregnant women face in the factory where she works.

According to Aruna Kashyap, a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, Cambodia actually has fairly strong labor laws with good protection for workers. However, smaller factories routinely skirt past these provisions and largely go unmonitored. Because women comprise 90% of the country’s more than 700,000 garment workers, they unfortunately have to bear the brunt of these labor violations.

Pregnant women in particular face specific challenges when working in a factory. In this video a garment worker gives her testimony saying:

“They told me to leave work at 4 pm. When I asked why they wouldn’t let me work more hours, they said, “pregnant women can’t work overtime. You have to leave at 4pm.” So I didn’t say anything, but when I started to leave work at 4 pm everyday, they fired me because they said that I didn’t work overtime.”

Is it just me or does this seems really unfair?

From this scenario, it’s easy to see how these factories are skirting around the labor laws intended to protect the workers, and actually using them against the individual. In this case the law to protect pregnant workers was warped, and the factory worker was left unable to do anything.

Human Rights Watch found that many factories repeatedly issued unlawful short-term contracts to avoid paying workers maternity and other benefits. These short term contracts were also used as a way to intimidate and control workers, and limit their ability to unionize. Employees are afraid of speaking out about these violations in fear that their contract will be terminated or not renewed.

Screen capture Youtube: HumanRightsWatch

I for one am not ok with these labor violations and misuse of contracts, but fortunately there are a couple ways we can address this problem.

Human Rights Watch suggests that the big western brands (which employ many of these smaller factories) publicize their plant information, including location and number of workers. This offers transparency which lends to better monitoring.

The Cambodian government also needs to do better inspections of these smaller factories and enforce the labor laws which already exist. As Kashyap said, Cambodia already has fairly strong labor laws, but they need to be applied throughout so all employees have protection.

Lastly, Cambodian workers must have the opportunity to form unions so they can better speak out against labor violations.

As global citizens, we have shown how coming together to form a unified voice can create positive change. My hope is that Cambodian workers will have this same opportunity as well.

If you would like to show your support for pregnant women, please sign the petition on the side to tell the G7 that the health of mother and kids should be a priority.