The rise of robots in manufacturing in Southeast Asia is likely to fuel modern-day slavery as workers who end up unemployed due to automation face abuses competing for a shrinking pool of low-paid jobs in a “race to the bottom”. Especially, the workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines — at least 137 million people — risk losing their jobs because of the automation in the next two decades. Those workers are more vulnerable to workplace abuses as they jostle for fewer jobs at lower wages.
Pressure to meet fast fashion deadlines is leading to women working in Asian factories supplying Gap and H&M being sexually and physically abused, according to two separate reports published by Global Labour Justice on gender-based violence in garment supply chains. More than 540 female workers at factories that supply the Gap and H&M have described incidents of threats and abuse. The reports claim that these allegations recorded between January and May this year in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, are a direct result of pressure for quick turnarounds and low overheads. Gap and H&M are going to investigate the allegations and they welcome initiatives to tackle violence, including an ILO convention.
Earlier this year Vietnam initialled a timber trade agreement with the EU that will see Vietnam implement legislation to address imports of illegally harvested and traded timber in return for timber exports to the EU. According to a recent EIA investigation, Vietnam continues its role as a serial offender in the illegal timber trade, with large volumes of illegal timber still flowing across the Cambodian border unhindered. EIA have identified three main areas within Cambodia where substantial illegal logging operations continue. EIA tracked timber from these sites is being smuggled out of Cambodia and into Vietnam across informal crossings.
Long known as a hotspot for rapid and largely illegal deforestation, Cambodia was singled out in a May 2017 EIA report. The report was the result of months of undercover investigations which found that from November 2016, more than 300,000 cubic metres (nearly 10.6 million cubic feet) of timber have been illegally felled in a wildlife sanctuary and two protected areas in Cambodia. Most of the timber was sold to Vietnam and generated $13 million in payments from Vietnamese timber traders. Environmental experts believe that a much-publicized crackdown on illegal logging launched in Cambodia in early 2016 had very little effect.
Vietnam has largely succeeded in reforestation within its border. Started in the 1980s, accompanying the transition to a market-driven economy, forestry management moved to a multi-sector approach with NGOs, businesses, local communities and management boards involved from originally government control. In 2008, Vietnam become a REDD pilot country, and both Forest Trends and FAO have recorded the increase in forest cover in Vietnam. However, challenge still exits. The demand for wood products in Vietnam is high, and now the country imports much from Cambodia, where illegal and unsustainable loggings happen frequently.
A new report from Forest Trends has found agricultural concessions in Cambodia provide entry points for destructive logging of natural forests, where some concessions are even located inside designated protected areas. This indicates a recent shift for Cambodian forests, which were previously being encroached by smallholder farmers. The landowners working these concessions are now much larger companies, opening access to previously inaccessible land. The report questions the levels of corruption and transparency within Cambodia - particularly at the point where concessions are identified and awarded – and calls for a logging moratorium while a full legal assessment is done on all designated forest land.
32 indigenous villagers in Cambodia’s north-eastern area, Stung Treng province, called on local forestry officials to crackdown on illegal saw mills and to provide them with protection after they received death threats from unsanctioned loggers of luxury timber. The 32 villagers are community activists, and they vowed to keep fighting illegal logging in their local area despite the threats. The environmental watchdog Global Witness said in a report in February that China’s voracious demand for luxury furniture is the driver behind the multimillion-dollar illegal trade in rosewood in Cambodia.
A 49-year-old journalist reportedly investigating illegal logging in Kratie province was shot dead early Sunday morning after he and five other journalists went to investigate reports of illegal logging. Within hours, police arrested three men – a commune police chief, a military police officer and a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) soldier – for the murder, officials said. The murder follows two other similar cases in Cambodia from 2012. The director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said there are many freelance reporters based in the provinces who investigate illegal activity and often work independently, which can leave them vulnerable. While some reporters in the provinces, often unsalaried, are tempted to betray their journalistic ethics and profit from the information they dig up, journalists who refuse to be bought off run the real risk of being framed – or attacked – when they uncover a crime.
Cambodia has the 5th fastest rate of deforestation in the world. By law, the government have to put any wood that is seized from illegal logging activity up for auction with the proceeds deposited in the state treasury. However these auctions are not transparent, and corruption is rife. Illegal wood is often sold to government officials at cheaper than market prices, which actually promotes further illegal logging activity. The investigative report highlights cases of corruption and the attempts to stop the trade of illegally sourced wood by NGOs.
A study by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford has found that forests are better protected when local communities manage them locally. The research was undertaken in Cambodia, a country that has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. Alternative methods of forest protection, such as community forestry, are needed in countries that have high levels of corruption. The study found that sites maintained by locals had fewer signs of man-made damage, such as stumps and burned trees.
The only suspect for the 2012 murder of Hang Serei Oudom, a Cambodian environmental journalist, has been acquitted by a court in Cambodia. Oudom had been investigating the role of military police in illegal logging and timber smuggling. His death came only five months after prominent environmentalist Chut Wutty was shot dead when accompanying two journalists to an illegal logging site.
A new WWF report warns that the Greater Mekong subregion in Southeast Asia risks losing more than a third of its natural forest cover in the next two decades at current rates of deforestation. The region, which is host to vital freshwater systems and forests depended upon by iconic species and a huge human population, is threatened by dam development, poaching and timber theft. The local governments have also given away large concessions to mining companies and plantation owners in designated protected areas.
A Cambodian journalist, Hang Serei Oudom, who wrote a number of stories uncovering forest crimes linked to businessmen and powerful officials has been found murdered in his car. Cambodia’s forest cover has dropped from 73 to 57% between 1990 and 2010 according to the UN. His murder follows that of prominent local environmentalist, Chhuth Vuthy. In the last story before his death, Oudom accused the son of a military police commander of smuggling logs in military-plated vehicles and extorting money from people who were legally transporting wood.
Article highlighting suspicions about the Cambodian government allowing or abetting illegal logging after the fatal shooting of environmental activist Chut Wutty.
Feature on the state of illegal logging in Cambodia looking at how villagers are making efforts to protect their forests against deforestation in the face of corruption, inactivity from the government and threats from illegal loggers. It also draws attention to the concessions the government has begun giving to private investors on protected areas, legalising unsustainable cutting. The World Bank estimates that 94% of logging in Cambodia by volume is illegal.