Part 2: A look at brand name clothes and the women who make them

Keo Nea looked so beautiful at her wedding, you almost wouldn’t have noticed the month-old bullet wound on her arm. Still, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, Nea struggled to smile. Her face couldn’t hide the pain.

The strange thing is, Nea wasn’t shot in a conflict zone or even in a bad part of town. Nea was shot at work.

Nea is one of more than 300,000 garment workers in Cambodia, most of them women from poor, rural areas. On February 20th, she arrived as usual at the factory where she makes shoes for the German sporting goods company, Puma – but a typical day of work soon turned to chaos. The factory owner shut out all of the workers in response to their demands for a higher wage. Nea remembers more than a thousand women protesting while a small group of men threw rocks at the door. It wasn’t long before she saw a group of men arrive to break it up.

“They told us they were going to ‘solve the problem,’” she said.

One man opened fire on the crowd, shooting Nea and her two coworkers Nuth Sakhorn and Bun Chenda. Chenda took a bullet to the chest that went straight through her and out the other side. Sakhorn’s bullet went through her back and arm. As the three women were rushed to hospital for treatment, Chenda was near death.

“I was so scared,” said Nea. “So scared.”

None of the women saw who fired the gun, but later they would learn the accused was the town governor, Chhouk Bandith. Local officials attempted to buy their silence with promises of money and motorbikes, but the women refused and filed a complaint.

On March 1st, the Ministry of Interior publically identified Bandith as the sole suspect, but no warrant was issued for his arrest. On March 6, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a sub-decree to remove Bandith as governor, but he was relocated to another government post. On March 20th, Bandith admitted to the shooting in the provincial court, but still he wasn’t charged with a crime. He walked out the door a free man.

One month later, the court’s Chief Prosecutor finally ruled that Bandith was guilty of “causing injury without intent,” – a misdemeanor offense. Again, he walked.

Today, Chhouk Bandith is free, while the women feel scared and helpless.

“He is a rich man and has power in our province,” said Chenda. “That’s why he was punished so little.”

“I want justice, but I have no power to do anything,” said Nea. “I don’t think the law will find justice for me.”

Despite his appearance in court, the reasons for Bundith’s involvement in the incident remain unclear. For its part, Puma conducted a factory investigation following the incident and offered to pay for the girls’ medical costs.

After lengthy recoveries in hospital, each of the women returned back to work at the same factory where the shooting took place. They desperately need the money to support their families. Still, they say they wont ever protest for a wage increase again.

“I’m too scared,” said Nea. “Of course. Everyone is scared.”

Nea is only 18, the minimum age to be a garment worker in Cambodia. She’s a young girl. Now a bandaged wound and a solemn expression mark almost all of her wedding photos – a grim reminder of the day her voice was violently silenced, a reminder that her shooter is better protected by her government than she is, and a reminder that he, a convicted criminal, has more freedom than she, a poor female laborer, could ever hope for.

Facebook Twitter Email

2 Comments Add Yours

    Error thrown

    Call to undefined function ereg()