Wolfowitz Comes Under Fire for Personal and Political Blunders

Naina Dhingra

Naina Dhingra is the Director of International Policy at Advocates for Youth and serves on the Developed Country NGO Board Delegation of the Global Fund.


The annual spring meetings of the World Bank will be held this weekend in Washington, D.C. amidst turmoil and controversy surrounding its head, Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz, better known for his role as a former Bush official central to the planning of the Iraq war, came under fire yesterday for impropriety surrounding the promotion and pay raise of his girlfriend, Shaha Riza. Wolfowitz, who has been outspoken on the need to get rid of corruption in development during his tenure at the World Bank, made the hourly CNN newsfeed for helping Riza secure a high paying special assignment to the State Department when he joined the Bank.

As if he didn't have enough problems, the Financial Times reported last night that reproductive health policies have been under attack under Wolfowitz due to the appointment of Juan José Daboub to managing director. Daboub is a former member of the ruling conservative party of Ecuador. The FT reports that Daboub is "attempting to radically alter a long-standing health strategy at the World Bank" and that "there was a widespread perception within the bank that the emphasis on contraception in preventing disease was being altered following the appointment [of Daboub]."

Naina Dhingra is the Director of International Policy at Advocates for Youth and serves on the Developed Country NGO Board Delegation of the Global Fund.

The annual spring meetings of the World Bank will be held this weekend in Washington, D.C. amidst turmoil and controversy surrounding its head, Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz, better known for his role as a former Bush official central to the planning of the Iraq war, came under fire yesterday for impropriety surrounding the promotion and pay raise of his girlfriend, Shaha Riza. Wolfowitz, who has been outspoken on the need to get rid of corruption in development during his tenure at the World Bank, made the hourly CNN newsfeed for helping Riza secure a high paying special assignment to the State Department when he joined the Bank.

As if he didn't have enough problems, the Financial Times reported last night that reproductive health policies have been under attack under Wolfowitz due to the appointment of Juan José Daboub to managing director. Daboub is a former member of the ruling conservative party of Ecuador. The FT reports that Daboub is "attempting to radically alter a long-standing health strategy at the World Bank" and that "there was a widespread perception within the bank that the emphasis on contraception in preventing disease was being altered following the appointment [of Daboub]."

Apparently, both Wolfowitz and Daboub didn't read the World Development 2007 report, recently published by their own institution. The theme of the report is youth aged 12 to 24. If you read the report, you would have been shocked to find the World Bank endorsing reproductive health policies to improve youth's health. The report states:

The structured school environment is conducive to teaching young people about their bodies and about safe health behavior. The programs offer a chance to reach large numbers of young people and their teachers, as well as an opportunity to institutionalize sex education and broaden its impact when ministries of education make it official policy. No evidence indicates that sex education increases sexual activity among youth.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

I know that I nearly fell off my chair. The World Bank? The big mean financial institution led by former Bush ideologue endorsing comprehensive sexuality education in schools? The report also rejects that an abstinence-only message is appropriate for youth:

Messages must provide a range of options: programs providing only one message—say, on abstinence—will not reduce STIs.

Wonder how that one got by Wolfowitz! But it seems that Daboub has been trying to put an end to all of that; according to the FT, he recently tried to delete all references to family planning from a country proposal from Madagascar.

The World Bank spring meetings this weekend appear to have a humanitarian focus with a spotlight on empowering women and promoting gender equality. Specifically, they plan to increase women-owned businesses by 10 percent by 2009 and help establish clearer property rights for women. Women's economic empowerment is certainly a just cause, but not as a veil that covers an ideological agenda to strip women of their right to access contraception.

It's clear that Wolfowitz cares more about maintaining his credentials as a Bush ideologue instead of alleviating global poverty. But due to his blunders mixing work with pleasure, it doesn't look like he'll keep his job for long. The advocacy community should join with the media in evaluating Wolfowitz and demanding answers.

Analysis LGBTQ

Reimagining Safety for Queer and Trans Communities in Wake of Orlando

Tina Vasquez

“We need to have a national conversation about racism, homophobia, and transphobia,” said Alan Pelaez Lopez, a member of the organization Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement. “If these things do not happen, the nation, by definition, will have done nothing to support our communities.”

The same day of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting that would take the lives of 49 mostly Latino and LGBTQ-identified people, thousands of miles away in Santa Monica, California, a man was found with weapons, ammunition, and explosive-making materials in his car with plans to attend the annual Pride festival taking place in West Hollywood later that day.

Conversations around security and safety were raised by law enforcement almost immediately. In the days since, reports have emerged that from San Francisco to New York, there will be more police and “ramped-up security measures” at Pride events nationwide.

But queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) say these responses are missing the mark, because what their communities really need are deeper conversations and more resources that address their specific experiences, including fewer police at Pride events.

House Democrats held a sit-in on gun control this week as a direct response to the Orlando shooting. Though Alan Pelaez Lopez—an Afro-Latinx, gender-nonconforming immigrant, poet, and member of the organization Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement—agrees that gun control is important and should be considered by Congress, they said it can also feel like the community affected by the shooting almost always gets erased from those discussions.

“We need to have a national conversation about racism, homophobia, and transphobia,” the poet said. “If these things do not happen, the nation, by definition, will have done nothing to support our communities.”

Rethinking ‘Pride’ for People of Color

In mid-May, Rewire reported on the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)’s week of action to #RedefineSecurity, which encouraged participants to reimagine what safety looked like in Asian and Pacific Islander communities, and called for them to push back against police presences at Pride events.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Pride events and festivals take place each June to commemorate the Stonewall riots in New York City, a clash between police officers and members of the LGBTQ community—led by trans women of color—that would kickstart the modern LGBTQ movement.

Even after the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub, NQAPIA organizing director Sasha W. told Rewire their stance on police at Pride events hasn’t changed, but only grown more resolute.

As an organizer working with queer and trans Muslim, South Asian, and Middle Eastern communities, Sasha W. said the populations they work with say that framing the Orlando shooting as a “terrorist attack” makes them feel “increasingly unsafe.”

“I think part of what we need to remember is to examine what ‘terror’ looked like in queer and trans communities over the course of our history in this country,” Sasha W. said. They cited the Stonewall riots and the inaction by the government during the HIV and AIDS epidemic as examples of some of the many ways the state has inflicted violence on queer and trans communities.

Sasha W. added that pointing blame at Daesh is too easy, and that the oppression queer and trans people face in the United States has always been state-sanctioned. “We have not historically faced ‘terror’ at the hands of Muslim people or brown people. That is not where our fear has come from,” they said.

What’s missing, they said, is a conversation about why police officers make certain people feel safe, and “interrogating where that privilege comes from.” In other words, there are communities who do not have to fear the police, who are not criminalized by them, and who are confident that cops will help them in need. These are not privileges experienced by many in queer and trans communities of color.

Asking the mainstream LGBTQ community to rethink their stance on police and institutions that have historically targeted and criminalized communities of color has been challenging for queer and trans people of color.

What’s become clear, according to Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement founder Jorge Gutierrez, is that after a tragedy like Orlando, white LGBTQ members want to feel united, but many don’t want to discuss how things like race and citizenship status affect feelings of safety. Instead, some will push for a greater police presence at events. 

There have already been instances of white members of the LGBTQ community publicly shutting down conversations around racial justice. Advocates say the public needs to understand the broader context of this moment.

“The white LGBTQ community doesn’t face the criminalization and policing that our community faces every day. Not just at Pride, but every day, everywhere we go. That’s our life,” Gutierrez said. “If you don’t listen to us when it comes to these issues of safety, you’re not just erasing us from a tragedy that impacted us, but you’re really hurting us.”

As Gutierrez explained, in the hours after the shooting, some media coverage failed to mention Pulse was a gay club, failed to mention it was people of color who were killed on Latino night, and failed to mention that trans women were performing just before the shooting broke out. Gutierrez told Rewire he felt like his community and their pain was being erased, so his organization put together a video featuring queer and trans immigrants of color, including Lopez, to discuss their immediate feelings after the Pulse shootingand many shared sentiments similar to Sasha W.’s and Lopez’s. One trans Latina said the shooting was “years in the making.”

“The video was important for us to release because the shooting was being framed as an isolated event that randomly happened, but we know that’s not true. We know that the United States has a history of hurting queer and trans people of color and we needed to produce our own media, with our own messaging, from our own people to tell people what really happened, the history that lead to it happening, and who it really impacted. We didn’t want our voices and our realities as immigrants, as undocumented people, as queer and trans people of color, erased,” Gutierrez said.

Without even factoring in an increase in law enforcement, Lopez told Rewire Pride already felt unsafe for people like them.

“I have experienced a lot of racism [at Pride events], the pulling of my hair from people walking behind me, and I have also been sexually harassed by white people who claim to want to experiment with being with a Black person,” Lopez said.

Though Lopez didn’t attend any Pride events in Los Angeles this year, they told Rewire that in previous years, there was already a large police presence at Pride events and as a “traumatized person” who has had many negative interactions with police officers, including being racially profiled and stopped and frisked, encountering law enforcement was scary.

“Seeing [cops] at Pride makes me remember that I am always a target because at no time has the police made me feel protected,” the poet said. “Signs of heavy police presence are really triggering to people who have developed post-traumatic stress disorder from violent interactions with the police, for undocumented communities, for transgender communities, for young people of color, and for formerly incarcerated individuals. When I think of security, I do not think of police.”

Lopez isn’t alone. Whether it’s law enforcement violence against women and trans people of color, law enforcement working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the detainment and deportation of undocumented people, or the way law enforcement has reportedly discriminated against and harassed gender-nonconforming people, QTPOC have very real reasons for feeling vulnerable around police officers, advocates say.

Another reason Lopez chose not to attend Pride this year: It was being sponsored by Wells Fargo. The banking corporation sponsors over 50 yearly Pride events and has been called a “longtime advocate of LGBT equality” by organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, which also lists Wells Fargo as a top-rated company on its Corporate Equality Index. But Wells Fargo has a history of investing in private prisons, including detention centers. Calls to drop Wells Fargo from Pride events have been unsuccessful. For queer immigrants like Lopez, attending Pride would mean “financially contributing” to the same corporation and system that they said killed their friends, the same corporation that they said has incarcerated their family, and that they said has tried—but failed—to incarcerate them.

Sasha W. told Rewire that for QTPOC, it’s easy to forget that the event is supposed to be about celebration.

“For many of us, we can’t really bring our whole selves into these places that are meant to make us feel free or we have to turn off parts of who we are in order to enjoy ourselves” the organizer said. “And as far as the policing of these events go, I think it’s worth noting that policing has always been about protecting property. It’s always been about property over people since the days of the slave trade. When we see police at Pride events the assumption [by our communities] is that those police will protect money and business over our queer brown and Black bodies.”

“Really Troubling Policies”

As organizations and corporations work to meet the short-term needs of victims of the Orlando shooting, advocates are thinking ahead to the policies that will adversely affect their communities, and strategizing to redefine safety and security for QTPOC.

Gutierrez told Rewire that what has made him feel safe in the days since the Orlando shooting is being around his QTPOC community, listening to them, mourning with them, sharing space with them, and honoring the lives of the brothers and sisters that were lost. His community, the organizer said, is now more committed than ever to exist boldly and to make the world a safer place for people like themand that means pushing back against what he believes to be a troubling narrative about what safety should look like.

However, Gutierrez said that politicians are using his community’s pain in the wake of the Orlando shooting to push an anti-Muslim agenda and pit the LGBTQ community against Muslims, conveniently forgetting that there are people who live at the intersection of being queer and Muslim. Perhaps more troubling are the policies that may arise as a result of the shooting, policies that will add to the surveilling and profiling Muslims already experience and that will further stigmatize and criminalize vulnerable communities.

“The government, the police, politicians, they’re trying to equate safety with having more police on the street, at gay clubs—that are like home to many of us, and at Pride. We know that doesn’t make us safe; we know police are part of the problem,” he said.

“Of course we need to make it more difficult for people to get guns, but we also need more resources for our communities so our communities can truly be safe on the streets, in the workplace, at school, at the clubs, and at Pride,” he said. “That means having healthy communities that have resources so people can thrive and live authentically. The answer to our problems is not more police.”

Sasha W. echoed Gutierrez, saying that their community is already fearful of what’s to come because moments of national crisis often create the space for “really troubling policies.”

“That’s how we got the Patriot Act,” the organizer said. “There is a fear that we are in another one of those moments where there are calls for protection and it’s being tied to the false idea of a foreign threat that requires an increase of surveillance of Muslims. Think of how calls for protection have also hurt queer communities, communities of color, trans communities, like the idea that bathrooms aren’t safe because of trans people. Who is really unsafe in this country, and why do policies hurt us instead of protect us?”

Lopez added: “The Orlando shooting was powered by the fact that the United States has a history of violence against LGBTQIA communities, a history of violence against immigrants, a history of violence against women, and a history of colonization of the island of Puerto Rico … The U.S. needs to address institutional problems of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sex, and sexuality if it wants to put an end to future massacres.”

The question remains: How can vulnerable communities be made to feel safer not just at Pride events, but in a political moment when transphobia is state-sanctioned, Islamophobia is applauded, and communities of color still have to fight for their humanity?

Sasha W. urges QTPOC to “expand their political imagination” and re-envision what security looks like. In the long term, the organizer said, they hope more people recognize who their communities’ “actual enemies” are, instead of turning on each other.

“Let’s recognize that the state has always been something we’ve had to fight to survive and that institutions that hurt us are growing increasingly strong in this moment of crisis, as they often do, so we have to work to disarm and dismantle the institutions that terrorize our communities” they said.

“On another note, we have always been our own best defense, especially in communities of color,” they said. “Supporting each other to protect ourselves better doesn’t happen overnight, I know, but so much of this starts with building community with each other so that we know each other, love each other, and throw down for one another.”

Analysis Human Rights

Made in Cambodia: Garment Workers Fight Gap, H&M and Others for a Minimum Wage

Michelle Tolson

Cambodian garment workers are fighting for a livable wage. Of the half-million garment workers in the county, 90 percent are women living on about $3 a day, not enough to eat much less afford housing. The majority of textiles exported are destined for brands like Gap and Wal-Mart, as Cambodia enjoys “most favored nation” status with the United States under the World Trade Organization’s free trade agreement.

As 2013 drew to a close, Cambodian garment factory workers began striking in Phnom Penh for a livable wage. Recently, the Ministry of Labor had approved a $95-a-month wage, and while this was more than the $80 a month workers had been living on, they held out for $160, which was the bottom end of a “living wage” for Cambodia, according to labor research.

Another $5 a month was offered, but workers rejected it. By January 3, the non-violent strikes ended in a military crackdown and riots. Four garment workers were shot dead, another was shot in the chest and is missing, and more than 30 were injured. A ban on public assembly was put in place, and 23 labor leaders were arrested.

International media coverage showed Cambodian youth clad in skinny jeans, covered in blood and running from the military.

Lost in coverage of the social unrest were the women behind the movement.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The Life of a Cambodian Garment Worker

Of the half-million garment workers in the county, 90 percent are women living on about $3 a day. The garment industry accounts for about 80 percent of Cambodia’s exports. The majority of textiles exported (70 percent) are destined for popular brands in the United States, like Gap and Wal-Mart, as Cambodia enjoys “most favored nation” status with the United States under the World Trade Organization’s free trade agreement. Supplying the U.S. brands are factories based in Cambodia but owned by East Asian businessmen who contract with western brands. Cambodian women fill unskilled labor positions, sewing the clothes.

Hailing from remote regions in the countryside, factory workers typically cram into the back of a truck once a month in order to visit their families, who they help support. About 80 percent of the country still lives as subsistence farmers with young garment workers providing a vital link, sending money home to aging parents and siblings in school.

Not only is the garment industry the lifeblood of the country, it is a lifeline to impoverished families.

Sothary Kun, a former garment worker turned singer-activist who supported the recent strike with her five bandmates (also former garment workers), said workers spend about $10 to $25 each month traveling to their villages. Fuel in Cambodia costs more than it does in the United States, and workers pack into trucks that are dangerously full so they can afford to travel.

While families eke out a living as subsistence farmers, their daughters try to make a life in the city. The scenario might have exciting implications for young women living away from home for the first time, but rising costs of living have not kept pace with wages.

“Usually a worker has to spend approximately $15 to $20 for a rented room per month, shared between two to seven people,” explained Kun. These tiny rooms, located in Phnom Penh’s garment district, are built to house two people, but most take on roommates to cut costs. “This is not including the utility cost, such as water, electricity, and sanitation.” Garment workers pay for electricity prices that are among the highest in the world—four to five times more than in neighboring Vietnam, as Cambodia imports much of its electricity. Only 25 percent of the country is supplied by the government grid, according to the World Bank.

Tola Moeun, head of the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), an organization that advocates for labor rights, explained a typical work day for garment workers is ten to 12 hours long, six days a week. “Most garment workers are in debt $50 each, able to pay just the interest rates on their loans each month.”

Workers take out loans because they depend on overtime to meet their monthly expenses, which are “unpredictable,” according to Thida Khus, executive director of SILAKA, an organization that trains women for leadership.

“Workers commonly spend about $1.25 to $2.50 [a day] for three meals,” said Kun. They often use rice to stretch their food, buying one meal consisting of vegetables and protein to share between four or more workers.

CLEC is trying to get popular brands like H&M and Gap, the largest companies sourcing from Cambodia to U.S. markets, to implement a free meal program in the factories, as malnutrition is common among workers. Mass faintings have affected up to 4,000 of the estimated 600,000 workers, caused by hunger, the long working hours, poor ventilation and heat, and the chemicals used to treat fabric, according to labor research.

Wages have been kept low to keep Cambodia competitive in the industry. The current free trade agreement under the World Trade Organization began after the previous Multi-Fiber Agreement phased out in 2004. Hailed as a benefit to development, unit prices for garments sold to western countries instead dropped, though overall the orders increased. Flexibility in contracts is preferred by western brands sourcing from Cambodia, so short-term contracts have replaced longer ones. This has contributed to the worsening of working conditions, as documented by a 2012 World Bank report.

Moeun called the low wages and short-term contracts “two hand-cuffs” that ensnare garment workers. He found in his labor research that many female workers get unsafe abortions from unlicensed medical personnel out of fear of not getting re-hired when their contract ends; factories prefer workers who take no sick leave when new contracts come up. What’s more, the International Labor Organization noted the “low fertility rates” of garment workers, finding many cease menstruation from malnutrition.

The Popular, Profitable Companies Behind the Garment Factories

On January 3, a special military unit was called in by South Korean factory owners to break the strike and get workers back on the job, according to a translation by South Korean trade unions of the Facebook page of their embassy in Cambodia. The post said:

We are cooperating closely with the military and police authorities for the protection of Korean companies. As a result of this, the military [has] taken special measures specifically to protect Korean companies in the Kanadi [Canadia] industrial park.

The crackdown took place in front of Yakjin factory, a Korean business, which reportedly supplies Gap, Old Navy, American Eagle, and Wal-Mart. (South Korean trade unions also point out that Yakjin Trading Corp., owner of the subsidiary factory in Cambodia, was acquired by the U.S.-based Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, on December 24.)

After news of this broke, a demonstration supported by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and Cambodian migrants in South Korea was staged on January 10. South Korean trade unions were also embroiled in their own battle over the privatization of railroads at the time, which increased the sense of solidarity with Cambodian garment factory workers.

“The Korean government miscalculated the response from civil society and trade unions, which are quite strong in Korea,” said Dennis Arnold, a researcher specializing in labor, migration, and citizenship in Southeast Asia, who has written several reports on Cambodia’s garment industry.

(When calls and emails were made to the Carlyle Group about the military intervention, the press office in Hong Kong deferred to South Korean Yakjin Trading Corp, which did not respond to inquiries.)

Rights activists and trade unions are hoping the outrage South Koreans and Cambodians feel reaches U.S. consumers. Cambodia is one of the top-ten suppliers of garments and textiles flowing into the United States from developing countries, according to Arnold.

As Sophea Chrek, interim coordinator for the Workers Information Center (WIC) and a former garment worker, noted, “There are many famous brands, U.S. based corporations such as the Wal-Mart, Abercrombie and Fitch, Hollister [subsidiary of Abercrombie] … and Gap, which make a lot of profit from Cambodia.”

In 2013, Wal-Mart’s sales revenue was $469 billion, with a net income of $17 billion, up from the previous year. For the same year, Gap Inc. reported revenue of $15.65 billion, with profits listed at $1.14 billion.

Despite the profits, Gap Inc. won the intentionally shaming “Public Eye” award at Davos for having the worst business practices in the garment industry. Wal-Mart also has been criticized for its poor business practices. Both corporations refused to sign an agreement with Bangladesh unions to improve working conditions for factories they contract with.

“How much do Cambodian workers earn in total per year, compared to a Wal-Mart or Abercrombie’s’ CEO salary a month?” asked Chrek. “Workers’ demands in the past weeks were to have a better and dignified living. They did not demand for a standard living [comparable to] those companies’ CEOs.”

Wal-Mart CEO Michael Duke reportedly earned a salary of $1.3 million in 2011, not including bonuses; his total compensation for that year was $17.6 million.

Garment workers’ salary will increase to $100 a month, or $1,200 a year before overtime, in February. (Though the garment workers rejected the extra $5-per-month hike, pushing for a more significant increase, with the strike broken up and a ban on public assembly, they have few options but to accept it.)

Prior to the 1950s, the United States and Europe manufactured their own clothes but moved production to Japan in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Production shifted again in the 1970s and 80s to Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan, which then dominated the manufacturing market as newly industrialized economies. As their own economies grew, they outsourced production in the ’90s to lower-income countries, but continued to supply western buyers, retaining ownership of factories. To date, these East Asian countries own 93 percent of the factories in Cambodia and supply western markets.

Gap Inc., founded in 1969 in San Francisco, now produces 98 percent of its merchandise outside of the United States, in 40 countries, through undisclosed venders, according to its annual report. H&M, based in Sweden but popular in the United States, contracts with factories in a number of countries, including 37 facilities in Cambodia.

Because of the nation’s poor infrastructure and high electricity prices, foreign factory owners claim Cambodia is “not competitive,” compared to production costs in neighboring Vietnam, and they keep wages artificially low so western buyers won’t flee.

However, as garment work researcher Dennis Arnold explains, the situation is more complicated than that. “There are other costs that aren’t so easily factored in such as the ‘BBCs,’ or bribes, bureaucracy and corruption,” he said. “In the U.S., there are corporate contributions to political campaigns for instance. China [and] Vietnam too [have] this problem, but it takes a more parasitic form in Cambodia. [The government] invests nothing in [the industry] and seems to take the view of getting as much money out of it as they can.”

While there are an estimated 400 garment factories in Cambodia, the country only has a 7 percent domestic ownership stake in the industry, owing to its slow recovery from decades of conflict and the Khmer Rouge years, when an estimated one-third of the population died.

Viable Solutions

Arnold sees a three-pronged compromise from the Cambodian government, U.S. brands, and East Asian factory owners to address the needs of garment workers.

“Reduce the ‘BBCs,’” which drain profits that should go back to the garment worker, said Arnold. “A structural reform in the Cambodian government needs to take place for this to change, but it appears the CPP [Cambodia’s ruling party] lacks political will.

“[Clothing brands] should give a higher price. Just 1 cent extra paid per t-shirt for instance would help. And factory owners could take a smaller share of the profits,” he said.

H&M, a publicly traded company, had a revenue of $18.13 billion and net profit of $2.58 billion last year. To date, the company has been one of the more responsive brands following the conflict.

When pressed about labor advocates’ concerns, H&M spokesperson Elin Hallerby responded in an email: “Like with all our suppliers’ workers making clothes for H&M, the Cambodian workers’ health and nutrition is also concern for H&M. We are aware of the issue about lunch that CLEC brings up, we have a good dialogue with them and this is an important question for us.”

H&M said it envisions the creation of model factories, “two factories in Bangladesh and one in Cambodia,” where human rights are highlighted, implementing a living wage by 2018. The model factory scheme suggests that the company will be involved at all stages of production to determine “best practices,” with Hallerby noting rather diplomatically (and possibly alluding to corruption) that production costs are not solely determined by wages.

To immediately address human rights issues, H&M has announced a “partnership” with Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), but did not specify the details, deferring to the group to explain their plans. CRD responded in an email that while the details are still being determined, they call “for the release of human rights defenders and garment workers detained for their participation in the peaceful protests. We urge the authorities to lift the ban on public gatherings and to initiate an investigation into the violence, holding those responsible to account.”

When asked his thoughts on the initiative, CLEC’s Tola Moeun said, “I’m not aware of that project [Civil Rights Defenders] and don’t understand how [it] would help workers. H&M should just work with its suppliers to pay $160 per month as a minimum wage if they have a real commitment. No law prohibits businesses to pay workers higher than national minimum wage.”

Meanwhile, since the strike, activists are being watched by the authorities. “We were informed by the [garment] workers that some people asked who we are and how many of us there are,” said Sothary Kun when asked about her and her bandmates’s well-being.

WIC’s Sophea Chrek said, “Some of [the leaders of the strike] reported that they were threatened to either be dismissed or sued in court if they are involved in the next action by [showing them] that they have the video of their previous action,” alluding to the authority’s use of plain-clothes police who video record activists. Mostly, however, she worries about the workers who have lived in fear since the crackdown.

“I felt so upset about the dead,” said Soung Vannak, a 31-year-old garment worker from a factory in Phnom Penh who demonstrated peacefully with her colleagues during the strike. “We just demanded our wage to improve our life.”

“Why did they kill them?” asked Vannak of the workers who died.

Chrek has no easy answers, but she has suggestions for consumers. “Question the brand companies about the current, serious violations and intimidation happening to workers producing your clothes,” she said. She suggests doing research on the companies consumers buy their clothes from and choosing those that favor “fairness” in their treatment of workers.

While a military intervention might mean stability for foreign interests, it has created fear for Cambodia’s garment workers.