‘Hu­man rights the price paid’ for King­dom’s SEZ growth

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Niem Ch­heng

THE gains brought to the King­dom by the es­tab­lish­ment of spe­cial eco­nomic zones (SEZs) has come at a high price, with peo­ple be­com­ing the vic­tims of land grabs, poor labour con­di­tions and en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, re­ports the Cam­bo­dian Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights (CCHR).

In its fact­sheet Cam­bo­dia’s Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zones and Hu­man Rights, CCHR said the es­tab­lish­ment of SEZs in 2005 was done with a lack of trans­parency and pub­lic­ity, which left peo­ple un­able to prop­erly de­fend their rights. It also came with­out proper con­sul­ta­tion with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, which re­sulted in forced evic­tions.

The wages and work­ing con­di­tions at SEZs, it said, were also poor. More­over, the re­port said free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion at such work­places were re­stricted, although unions have been al­lowed to be formed.

“While the ad­van­tages [SEZs] can bring in terms of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and trade are not to be ne­glected, the de­vel­op­ment and op­er­a­tions of SEZs are of­ten in­trin­si­cally linked to hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions such as land grabs, poor labour con­di­tions or en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age,” the re­port said.

SEZs come un­der the man­age­ment of the Coun­cil for the De­vel­op­ment of Cam­bo­dia (CDC) with a man­age­ment group called the Cam­bo­dian Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone Board (CSEZB), it said.

The Open De­vel­op­ment Cam­bo­dia NGO recorded the sit­u­a­tion at 38 SEZs across the King­dom.

“Be­cause they are pub­lic en­ti­ties act­ing on be­half of the Royal Gov­ern­ment of Cam­bo­dia, the CDC and the CSEZB must re­spect in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised hu­man rights as en­shrined in the Cam­bo­dian Con­sti­tu­tion and in­ter­na­tional treaties rat­i­fied by Cam­bo­dia at all times,” the re­port said.

“How­ever, there is no ef­fec­tive griev­ance or re­port­ing mech­a­nism al­low­ing com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by the SEZ to re­port hu­man rights abuses, in con­tra­ven­tion of the [Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment’s] obli­ga­tion to en­sure that all hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions are prop­erly in­ves­ti­gated and ef­fec­tively reme­died.”

CCHR laid out five rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion con­cern­ing SEZs. They in­clude re­fus­ing the cre­ation of an SEZ un­less the au­thor­i­ties have made en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial im­pact as­sess­ments and con­sulted with af­fected in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties.

Oth­ers are the re­form of the le­gal regime gov­ern­ing SEZs to align with in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights law, en­sur­ing sub-de­crees in es­tab­lish­ing all SEZs to be pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble, en­sur­ing free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion for work­ers,

and cre­at­ing an in­de­pen­dent, im­par­tial and ef­fec­tive griev­ance mech­a­nism for com­plaints.

Vann Sophath, CCHR’s busi­ness and hu­man rights project co­or­di­na­tor, said on Tues­day that the re­port was in­tended as a mes­sage to the gov­ern­ment and rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers to ad­dress neg­a­tive as­pects and so im­prove the run­ning of SEZs.

“If a de­vel­op­ment faces high risk then it won’t be sus­tain­able. So any de­vel­op­ment that [neg­a­tively] af­fects the rights of the [com­mu­nity] or its work­ers’ labour rights is un­sus­tain­able, and peo­ple will [protest], which leads to con­fronta­tion.

“If such a sit­u­a­tion oc­curs, it may not [put off ] in­vestors. But if a de­vel­op­ment re­spects hu­man rights and [op­er­ates] with­out any prob­lems, then it will run smoothly with good in­vest­ment,” Sophath said.

‘Sys­tem­atic way’

He said he did not have fig­ures for com­mu­ni­ties which are com­plain­ing of prob­lems with SEZs be­cause CCHR had dif­fi­cult y in ac­cess­ing such zones.

CDC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Sok Chenda Sophea, who is also a min­is­ter at­tached to the prime min­is­ter’s depart­ment, could not be reached for com­ment.

Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment spokesman Phay Siphan said SEZs were cre­ated by pri­vate com­pa­nies or as a joint ven­ture and so were not un­der t he su­per v ision of t he gov­ern­ment.

There­fore, he said, any such es­tab­lish­ment came un­der the agree­ment be­tween the lo­cal peo­ple and com­pa­nies con­cerned.

How­ever, he said as a re­quire­ment, such com­pa­nies must con­duct im­pact as­sess­ments and re­port to the gov­ern­ment be­fore start­ing op­er­a­tions. The com­pany must also show its con­tri­bu­tion to the de­vel­op­ment of the sur­round­ing area.

Siphan went on to de­fend t he rights given to work­ers by the gov­ern­ment to dis­cuss con­di­tions with t he com­pa­nies.

“We are open to let­ting them have a union that will [voice] their de­mands and de­fend the in­ter­ests of their mem­bers. Work­ers don’t need to protest be­cause we can solve prob­lems in a sys­tem­atic way. Work­ers and com­pany own­ers are part­ners,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, an SEZ is a spe­cific geo­graphic area where spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive reg­u­la­tions ap­ply, such as a dif­fer­ent tax regime, or ben­e­fits from dif­fer­ent le­gal or lo­gis­ti­cal ar­range­ments in or­der to at­tract busi­ness and in­vest­ment.

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