A union’s petition blaming the government for the potential loss of Cambodia’s duty-free trade access to the E.U. was rejected by the prime minister’s cabinet.
The Cambodian Confederation of Unions’ petition, containing 1,379 thumbprints and submitted on Friday, said the government needed to do more to appease the E.U., which is reviewing its “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade scheme with Cambodia due to political and human rights concerns.
“If we lose jobs because of the suspension of EBA trade preferences with the European Union, we will consider the Cambodian government leaders to be the ones responsible and the ones bringing suffering to us and our families,” the petition said.
On Monday, Kong Chamroeun, an official working for the prime minister’s cabinet, said the petition was rejected because it did not contain an actual request.
“The government is already taking action on this,” Chamroeun said. “It was not a request but an order.”
Chamroeun also downplayed the petition’s significance, saying there were many more workers and unions in the country than the petition represented.
The EBA preferential trade scheme provides Cambodia and other developing nations duty-free and quota-free access to the 28-member European bloc for all products except arms and ammunition.
To maintain the trade preferences, countries must comply with labor and human rights principles enshrined in international conventions. If the E.U. finds “serious and systematic violation” of those principles, the scheme can be withdrawn in whole or in part.
The European Commission has cited the government’s detention of main opposition president Kem Sokha and the dissolution of his party, the CNRP, in 2017, among other “repressive actions,” as appearing to violate international rights treaties.
Cambodia’s garment industry employs about 750,000 workers, the International Monetary Fund said in a report last month. It’s estimated that employment in the sector could decline by about 6 percent in the long term — or about 45,000 jobs lost — if the EBA was suspended.
In a statement, the Cambodian Confederation of Unions said the rejection of its petition was an “insult.”
The E.U.’s final decision on the EBA suspension is due next month.