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Wal-Mart and H&M Pay $200,000 to Cambodian Workers in Historic Settlement

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A rare successful campaign for workers' rights in the developing world.

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This article was written by Claire Gordon and originally appeared on AOL Jobs.

When tales emerge from the retail supply chain, they're usually tragic, like the alleged sweatshop conditions at the Foxconn (HKG:2038) plants that churn out Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) products, or the 112 Bangladeshi workers who died when their factory, where clothes for Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD), and Disney (NYSE:DIS) were made, burned to the ground.

But workers at one factory in the developing world appear, at least, to have a happy ending. For two months, around 200 garment workers have been keeping vigil, day and night, outside their former factory in the Cambodian capital, which made clothes for Wal-Mart and H&M (PINK:HNNMY). The workers claimed that for four months their wages were inexplicably cut, before the owner closed the factory altogether -- with no notice, or severance. But their strike has ended in success, reports the advocacy group Warehouse Workers United. The Kingsland factory workers won over $200,000 in back pay. The workers, who are mostly female, began their campaign on January 3, sleeping outside the factory in Phnom Penh in order to hold the machinery inside hostage. They feared that once it was taken, the owner would have no reason to return and pay them the wages they were owed.

"We want to tell Wal-Mart that we are struggling and sleeping in the heat and rain," Sorn Sothy, 26, who had worked in the factory for five years, said in a video broadcast by Voice of Democracy Radio. Tearing up, she continued: "We are scared at night. We dare not to sleep. We are concerned."

In February, the workers expanded their tactics, marching to the H&M office, and passing on a letter to the global brand's CEO, Karl-Johan Persson, reported CleanClothes.org.

The workers found allies around the world, including in the US. "We are all in the same fight, whether in Cambodia, Bangladesh, America, Mexico, or anywhere else," Mike Compton, an Illinois Wal-Mart warehouse worker, told LaborNotes. Compton and other workers at his warehouse won improvements in their own strike last fall.

According to LaborNotes, dozens of the workers intensified their campaign with a hunger strike on February 27. Just a couple days later, representatives of the brands, the suppliers, and the workers sat down together -- the first time such a meeting has occurred in Cambodia, reported CleanClothes.org. They reached a historic settlement of $205,000, to be distributed within two weeks.

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