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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Meets with Cambodian Women Unionists, Defends Worker Rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (center) meets with members of Cambodia's young, independent union movement. Photo by Caitlin Helfrich

This is a cross-post from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center.

During her tour of Southeast Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the greater protection of worker rights, improvement of labor standards and the empowerment of women following a private meeting in Cambodia with union leaders and labor activists.

Clinton met privately in Siem Rep, Cambodia, with 12 female union leaders—independent union representatives from every major industry in Cambodia, labor lawyers and activists—as well as the Solidarity Center country program director, David Welsh. Friday’s two-hour roundtable, organized jointly by the Solidarity Center and the U.S. Department of State, was devoted to union and worker rights issues. Participating in the discussion were Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women's issues; Barbara Shailor, special representative for international labor affairs at the U.S. Department of State; U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Todd; and U.S. Agency for International Development Mission Director Flynn Fuller.

At the meeting, Clinton heard of the challenges faced by trade unionists in Cambodia and, in particular, the challenges of women workers and women union leaders. The discussion also focused on the enormous progress made by both Cambodia and the young, independent Cambodian labor movement over the past decade, as well as the potential opportunities to advance both women's and workers' rights under Cambodia's prospective Trade Union law.

“Trade union rights in Cambodia were the dominant component of discussions,” the Solidarity Center’s Welsh told The Phnom Penh Post. “The U.S. delegation was clear that justice must be delivered for victims [of labor abuses].”

The secretary pledged the continued support of the U.S. government to both the Cambodian independent trade union movement and the work of the Solidarity Center before delivering the closing address to the Lower Mekong Initiative on Women s Gender Equality and Empowerment. 

In the address, Clinton commended the new trade union law, saying it “could be a model for the region. It would extend rights and protection to domestic workers. It would allow people to join unions. And if this law is passed and enforced, it will set a very strong standard for the rest of the region.”

She also emphasized the link between the promotion of trade union and worker rights with economic growth.

“The international community and international law recognize that workers everywhere, regardless of income or status, are entitled to certain universal rights, including the right to form and join a union and to bargain collectively. Child labor, forced labor, discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or other factors, should be universally prohibited,” she said in a speech following the meeting. “So defending these labor rights and improving working conditions is a smart economic investment, but it’s also a very important value.”

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