US State Secretary Hillary Clinton has encouraged Southeast Asian countries to improve labor conditions and promote workers’ rights as a way of driving economic growth.
“Standing up for workers’ rights and high labour standards is both right and moral, it’s also smart and strategic,” said Clinton during a women’s forum in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Clinton said respecting workers’ rights results in positive economic outcomes like higher investment levels. Bringing women into the economy also produces ripple effects, she said, adding that it raised taxes for governments and boosted equal opportunity.
The state secretary also insisted that the US was setting up protections to guarantee that greater investment boosts the reform process, as US-based companies will need to report on labor rights and transparency.
“Denying workers their universal rights costs societies dearly in lost productivity, innovation, and growth, as well as undermining the rule of law and creating instability.”
Clinton cited Cambodia and Vietnam as examples where deals with the US had helped promote economic growth and opened markets.
About 350,000 Cambodians, largely young women, currently work in the nation’s garment factories.
Many workers earn about $100 per month, usually including overtime. Calls for higher pay have spurred strikes involving thousands of employees.
The agreement with the Kingdom to open up the textile market was not perfect, but wages had increased and working conditions had improved, Clinton said.
But there was a need for changes, as Asia grows its middle class and Europe and the US seek to improve their exports to the region, she emphasized.