Delegation of Community Supporters Brings Workers’ Concerns to Walmart in Irvine

IRVINE, Calif. – Members of the Cambodian community, Orange County residents, warehouse workers and other supporters attempted to collect thousands of dollars owed to Cambodian garment workers Thursday, Jan. 31 at Walmart’s Southern California headquarters.

More than 200 workers have been sleeping on the sidewalk outside of a garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia since Jan. 3 after the factory owners illegally closed the facility in what workers contend is a  violation of Cambodian law. Workers are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and other compensation.

Khmer Girls In Action, an advocacy organization based in Long Beach, joined the delegation. "Khmer Girls In Action stands in solidarity with Cambodian garment workers fighting for their unpaid wages,” said Justine Calma of KGA. “Every day women, especially young women of color like the garment workers in Phnom Penh, are undercompensated and exploited for their work both locally and globally.  As an organization that empowers young Southeast Asian women to organize for change in their communities, KGA supports the garment workers in their struggle for safe and just labor conditions.”

The factory supplied undergarments to Walmart and H&M. Two videos featuring impassioned pleas from workers have been viewed by thousands of people internationally.  (View the videos here and here.) International unions and NGOs are calling on Walmart to address the situation at Kingsland. Simultaneously workers and their supporters will make similar demands at Walmart offices in Hong Kong and Seoul. In Cambodia, Kingsland workers will hold a vigil at the U.S. embassy.

Community members delivered a letter addressed to Walmart’s Vice President of Ethical Sourcing Rajan Kamalanathan calling for an immediate investigation and justice for 200 workers who earn an average of $60 a month.

“For Kingsland workers, getting the money they are owed is about much more than fairness; it is a matter of making ends meet. Many workers support several family members. Some are pregnant. Without having received the compensation they are legally entitled to, they are broke and starving. Faced with this dire situation, the workers, the majority of whom are women, have been holding vigil in front of the factory to prevent machinery from being taken out and sold before they are compensated,” the letter signed by Southern California community members says.

Walmart denied that Kingsland was a supplier at the time of the factory’s closure, but workers tell a different story. Garment workers report sewing underwear for Walmart brands until the factory was shuttered at the end of December.

Walmart boasts its own “Standards for Suppliers” that supposedly govern the behavior of its suppliers and contractors, but repeatedly contractors have been found in violation of these standards with no recourse.

“Walmart is not serious when it says it requires its contractors to follow the law,” said David Garcia, a former warehouse worker who will travel to Orange County. “We are supporting the workers in Cambodia because they deserve to be treated with respect and to be paid what they are owed.”

Garcia, who worked in a warehouse that supplies Walmart, was retaliated against after speaking up against poor safety conditions in the warehouse. Walmart initially denied there were any safety problems, but at the end of December Cal/OSHA, the state department in charge of workplace safety, cited and fined the warehouse operator and staffing agency for numerous serious violations.

Earlier this week another Walmart-contracted warehouse in Chino, California was ordered by California Labor Commissioner Julie Su to pay more than $1 million in stolen wage to 865 warehouse workers.