Cambodia's Bumpy Road To Labor Reform

Its U.S. trade deal is a test case for global standards

Last year, impoverished Cambodia made an unprecedented deal: In exchange for the U.S. agreeing to increase the textiles it imports from the country, the government said it would let foreign monitors inspect Cambodian garment factories and certify they were improving labor standards. Never before had the U.S. swapped favorable trading terms for good labor practices, and it marked a significant victory for U.S. trade unions--namely the American Union of Needle Trades Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE), which had lobbied Washington for the link. While the deal was an unusual breach of sovereignty, Cambodia is a war-ravaged nation in need of export earnings and investment. It could hardly say no.

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