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Monday, May 24, 2010

Foreign Brewers Accused of Exploitation in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH — Enjoying an after-work beer is common enough in Cambodia, for men at least. In hundreds of beer gardens, female beer promoters in corporate uniforms bearing the names of international or local brands try to entice them to buy their beer.

But working as a beer promoter is frowned upon socially. Sharon Wilkinson, who heads Care International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works with the women, says they are typically viewed as little more than sex workers.

Wilkinson says beer gardens are an environment where "sexual harassment including physical abuse is high."

Hers is a point of view that resonates with researchers from Canada's University of Guelph.

In a recent report, they conclude that brewers, including the world's largest beer firms, are exploiting women by allowing local distributors to underpay them.

A key finding was that 57 per cent of 122 beer promoters surveyed last year in Siem Reap in north-western Cambodia were compelled to engage in sex work to supplement their average monthly incomes of 81 dollars.

Professor Ian Lubek, who led the research, says wages for the country's 4,000 beer promoters must double to reduce the risk of HIV infection.

"A living wage is required," he says, explaining salaries would need to rise to 200 dollars monthly. "Beer sellers, no matter what brand, have never received a living wage in Cambodia."

Lubek says the women support three to four people each and describes workplace conditions as "toxic" with sexual harassment and excessive drinking common.

For their part, the world's four biggest brewers reject the claim that low wages force some beer promoters to engage in sex work.

The brewers - Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, London's SAB-Miller PLC, Dutch firm Heineken NV and Danish brewer Carlsberg A/S - together sell half the world's beer and enjoy the lion's share of the Cambodian market.

They say beer promoters, who they stress are employed by distributors and not the brewers, receive adequate wages.

The brewers have been criticized before and in 2006 set up an association to improve conditions. The objectives of the Beer Selling Industry of Cambodia include ensuring women have work contracts, receive proper training and have clear grievance procedures.

Carlsberg spokeswoman Berky Kong says an association survey showed average monthly incomes, including commission, were 110 dollars.

"The pay we are offering is actually very good money for them, considering their actual working hours per day are four to six hours," Kong said of Carlsberg's 635 beer promoters. Garment workers, by contrast, receive around 50 dollars a month for longer hours, she said.

Kong says beer promoters are "normally not the only person bringing income to the family" but declined to say how many of Carlsberg's promoters are single women and, therefore, more likely to be in such a position.

Association rules also prohibit beer promoters from drinking alcohol at work although Lubek found 99 per cent still drink daily and most to excess, citing pressure from customers. That adds to the risk of contracting HIV, he said.

Beer promoters have long been among those most at risk of contracting HIV in Cambodia. The government's National Aids Authority says 0.9 per cent of the adult population is HIV-positive. Although the rate among beer promoters remains unknown, rates of 20 per cent have been cited by NGOs.

Cambodia is undergoing a shift in sexual behaviour since a 2008 law banned prostitution. Organizations such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS are worried that fewer measures could be taken to combat the risks as sex work moves from brothels into beer gardens and karaoke parlours.

Lubek's report states that 80 beer promoters of 900 interviewed in the past seven years in Siem Reap have since died. He says he believes HIV-related infections are the reason although a lack of death certificates means their causes of death remain unknown.

"But that so many women should die so young - average age 25 years - is startling," he says.

The brewers say providing anti-retrovirals - another demand of Lubek's report - is unsuitable. Heineken's press officer Jeroen Breuer says the firm leaves that to the health service.

"What Heineken does is focus on providing information and education," Breuer says.

It is a position with which Care International agrees, not least since HIV-positive Cambodians remain stigmatized. Besides that, relying on an employer for life-saving medication might prevent women from moving jobs.

"If we're really going to make the change, we have to change the behaviour of the drinking man," Wilkinson says. "That's where the change comes, and that's what we're working on."
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Reservoir runs dry in Cambodia's coastal province

Several thousand Cambodians in a coastal province are without running water because a drought has caused the local reservoir to run dry.
The head of Koh Kong province's industry department, Pich Siyun, said Monday that late seasonal rains had caused the longest local drought in memory.

He says officials, businessmen and other residents in Koh Kong, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) west of the capital Phnom Penh, have begun purchasing delivered supplies drawn from natural bodies of water. Others traveled long distances to draw water themselves.

Fruit seller Ty Heng said by telephone from the provincial capital his family had to spend the equivalent of about $5 every day for clean water.
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Cambodia's Khmer Rouge trial verdict due July 26

Cambodian students re-enact torture executed by the Khmer Rouge to mark the annual "Day of Anger" at Choeung Ek, a former Khmer Rouge "killing field" dotted with mass graves about nine miles (15 kilometers) south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, May 20, 2010. Cambodia marked the annual commemoration Thursday by re-enacting torture and executions inflicted by the Khmer Rouge during their reign of terror in the 1970s. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—Cambodia's genocide tribunal announced Monday that it will give its verdict in July in the case of a notorious Khmer Rouge prison chief accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture.

Lars Olsen, spokesman for the U.N.-backed tribunal, said the court will hand down the verdict against Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, on July 26.

Duch, 67, commanded the notorious S-21 prison where as many as 16,000 people were tortured before being sent for execution in the late 1970s. He is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial, and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. He was tried last year.

The tribunal is seeking justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition under the 1975-79 communist Khmer Rouge regime.

"We hope that the verdict will mark an important milestone for the Cambodian people who are waiting for more than 30 years to see someone being brought to justice," Olsen said.

Four other Khmer Rouge leaders are facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. They are the group's top ideologist, Nuon Chea; former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary; his wife, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith; and former head of state Khieu Samphan.

Their trial is expected to begin late this year or early next year.
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Khmer dinner will raise awareness for Cambodian charity

Cambodian Awareness Organization at the University of California, Irvine is a newly-founded club dedicated to bringing Cambodia and its culture to the front of public thought. The service-based club believes in helping loving and caring for others.

The charity group will host their first Cultural Charity Banquet on Saturday, May 29, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. at Recreation 18-hole Golf Course, 5001 Deukmejian Drive. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

A full-course Khmer dinner will be served family-style outside in a beautiful garden with a gazebo. Attire for the evening is semi-formal. Guests are encouraged to come decked out in their best Khmer outfit.

There will be a silent auction with many hand-made items.

Performances include: Khmer classical dance, rap, singing, a showcase of CAO, debut of the full version of the song “Show the World We Exist” and more. Speakers for the evening will include Prany Sananikone, Director of Diversity Relations and educational programs, Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD), at the University of California, Irvine, and another special guest as yet unnamed.

This coming Summer 2010, CAO will make a trip to Cambodia as an exchange with the university students at Panasastra University in Phnom Penh with a goal of doing humanitarian work among the village poor in Cambodia. Funds raised during this event will go towards providing for the needy in different provinces of Cambodia, more specifically towards poor children and orphans.

Even those that are unable to attend the event can still make contributions. Donors that give more than $10 will receive a free CAO t-shirt. Include your address along with your donations and tax-deductible receipts can be issued. All profits go towards the poor children in Cambodia.

Tickets must be purchased by May 26 and are $35, or $22 for students. Student id’s will be checked at the door. Tickets may be purchased online at or make checks payable to “Cambodian Awareness Organization” and send to: Attn: Phanith Rama Sovann, 438 Stanford Court, Irvine, CA 92612.

For more information about the Cambodian Awareness Organization or to make a reservation for the charity dinner, please contact Phanith Rama Sovann at (562) 522-4217 or
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