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Garment Workers and Their States

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One of the laziest and morally bankrupt arguments people make about apparel workers and the working conditions is that they have governments and those governments need to step in if they want to improve wages. It’s up to Bangladesh to decide factory conditions in Bangladesh; American companies are just rightfully looking to maximize profit!

This of course not only lets American consumers and American apparel companies off the hook, but it also completely ignores the active complicity of those companies in backing up corrupt or dictatorial politicians that actively prefer to represent the companies over their own people. Apparel workers are demanding action from their own governments. What happens when they do? They get shot.

Military police officers fired Friday on protesters demanding higher wages for Cambodian garment workers, killing at least three people, officials said, as antigovernment protests against the decades-old rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen entered a volatile new phase.

The garment workers are demanding a doubling of their monthly wages, and they have been at the forefront of growing protests against Mr. Hun Sen’s authoritarian government. On Sunday, tens of thousands of people rallied to demand that Mr. Hun Sen step down.

This is why I keep arguing for the ability of workers to have access to an international legal regime defending their labor rights not only in their own country but in the country of corporate origin. The Cambodian workers desperate to make a decent living, like the Bangladeshi workers and like the Indonesian workers and Chinese workers and Vietnamese workers, face a government that has no interest in representing them and with a lack of meaningful democratic processes to create that change in ways that American liberals deem acceptable, i.e., the ballot box. So given that, what are they supposed to do?

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