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Friday, August 26, 2011

Lack of Research Among Academics a ‘Problem’: Lecturer

Cambodia’s higher education would do well to include more research and critical thinking demands on its professors, a university lecturer said Thursday.

         Peou Chivoin, a lecturer of media theory and research at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

“When [academics] do research, it is like they are exercising and it requires them to think critically, thus boosting the overall quality of their abilities and work,” said Peou Chivoin, a lecturer of media theory and research at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. “When people conduct research, they get to know social phenomena and try to determine problems that arise and come up with solutions.”

In much of Cambodian academics, the focus is on teaching, but not on research, he said.

Peou Chivoin is a Fulbright scholar and a PhD candidate of sociology at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

“At universities in developed countries like the US, Australia or Singapore, they have already turned primarily to research,” he said. “That means professors have their own research projects and try to publish their work, whereas Cambodian professors only teach.”

Not only are they not researching, he said, but Cambodian lecturers and professors work more than one job, thanks to pitifully low salaries. That creates a problem, because research would mean less time spent earning money.

Government subsidies could help, but no such support currently exists. A lucky few are able to take on research through the funding of grants or other outside help.

The problem is then passed on to the pupils, he said.

“When most professors do not do research themselves, it’s a problem when they lead their students to do research,” he said. “So there must be strengthened institutions to ensure more attention is paid to research.”
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CAMBODIA: H&M investigates mass faintings at factory

H&M has said that it has not found any plausible causes for a series of mass faintings that have taken place in a Cambodian factory making its clothes.

The statements follow local press reports that a total 284 workers at an M&V International Manufacturing site fainted on Tuesday and Thursday. According to the reports, workers smelled something bad coming from the shirts.

A spokesperson for the retailer told just-style today (26 August) that it was aware of the incident and that the "government, local authorities and International Labour Organisation have done investigations and have not found any plausible causes so far".

The spokesperson said H&M has also carried out an initial probe, with local staff immediately visiting the affected factories for an inspection and interviews with workers, but said the cause is "difficult to establish".

It said it has partnered with external experts and is in "close contact with the Better Factories Cambodia and the Employer Association GMAC" to figure out the root causes and solutions to these "discomforting incidents".

Inneke Zelderust, co-ordinator of the Clean Clothes campaign, said this is not the first time that there have been mass faintings in a Cambodian garment factory, citing a similar situation at a Puma factory in April.

An investigation following that incident found that overtime, poor chemical storage and heat were the causes for the faintings.

Zelderust described as "nonsense" M&V's excuse in the local press that the faintings were a "psychological phenomenon."

She suggested that high inflation levels are eroding salaries so that workers are not earning a living wage. "Workers are foregoing meals and doing lots of overtime which is leading to low nutrition levels," said Zelderust.

Zelderust called for other brands to be "proactive" in investigating worker health and occupational health and safety in their factories following the incidents, suggesting that it might be difficult to "pinpoint one cause" driving these mass faintings. "Take these as indicators of a broader problem," she emphasised.

According to a report released last week by the ILO's Better Factories Cambodia initiative, while working conditions in Cambodian garment factories are continuing to improve, there are still persisting worries over discrimination, overtime and occupational health, and safety.
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Donor governments asked to review Cambodia aid if NGO law is passed

Human rights groups call on UK, US and Australia to apply pressure on Cambodia if severely restrictive draft law is adopted

Cambodia's PM Hun Sen is under fire from human rights groups over a proposed law requiring NGOs and associations to register. Photograph: Rolex Dela Pena/EPA

Human rights organisations are calling on donor governments to reassess their aid programmes to Cambodia if the country passes a law that can be used to muzzle local and foreign NGOs.

Ten groups have written to William Hague, the foreign secretary, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Australia's foreign minister Kevin Rudd, sounding the alarm on a draft law now before Cambodia's council of ministers.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), Global Witness and others say the draft law, if passed in its present form, threatens to severely restrict civil society's right to freedom of association and expression.

"As such, the law will limit the ability of Cambodia's development partners to ensure that programmes reach their intended grass-roots beneficiaries," the letter says.

The letter urges the foreign ministers to make it clear to the Cambodian government that, if the proposed changes are adopted, they will reassess their aid programmes and urge multilateral aid agencies to review their assistance.

The key concern for human rights groups is a provision under the law which states that associations and organisations cannot operate in Cambodia unless complex registration applications have been formally approved by the government.

"The draft law will effectively authorise arbitrary decision-making by officials as it fails to adequately define terms or set clear guidelines, and it creates burdensome and expensive registration and reporting processes that will particularly disadvantage grassroots citizens' associations and groups," the letter says.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW's Asia division, said the Hun Sen government was seeking to stifle the one clear source of opposition to the government, having reduced the opposition to rump status and cowed the international community.

"Hun Sen is growing increasingly sensitive to critical NGO voices which are working with local people facing dispossession of their land for commercial use for cash crops such as sugar cane," said Robertson. "There has been a plague of land seizures and it is an issue that goes to corrupt governance."

An estimated 30,000 people are driven from farmland or urban areas every year to make way for property developments or mining and agricultural projects.

The World Bank earlier this month suspended new lending to Cambodia in a dispute over the eviction of thousands of poor landowners to make way for a property development in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Two thousand people have been evicted already and another 10,000 face eviction to make way for the project in the Boeung Kak lake area. The development is led by China's Inner Mongolia Erdos Hongjun Investment Corp, an unlisted firm that has pledged to spend $3bn in Cambodia on property, metal processing and power generation, and which has close ties to Hun Sen. Robertson said the Cambodian government has since agreed to put back on the table an onsite resettlement plan, which showed that international pressure can work.

"The lesson is when push comes to shove, when development partners threaten to take action, that kind of thing makes the Cambodian government sit up and take notice," he said.

The Cambodian government recently suspended a local NGO, the Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, which has been working with communities affected by major projects in Phnom Penh, including the Asian Development Bank/USAid-funded railway rehabilitation project, and the Boeung Kak lake development.

The suspension, say human rights groups, shows how the Cambodian government may use the draft associations and NGO law if it is passed.

In other recent moves against critics, the government earlier this month closed down two newspapers reproachful of the Cambodian ruling party – the Water & Fire News, and the World News. Their publishing licences were revoked because of "a perceived insult to the ministry of information".

Five men have also been convicted of "provocation" for distributing pamphlets critical of the state. They revealed the Cambodian government's ties to the Vietnamese government and accused Hun Sen of selling land to foreign countries, calling him a "traitor" and a "puppet of Vietnam".

One of Asia's poorest countries, Cambodia receives between $50m and $70m a year from the World Bank. It is looking increasingly to China for aid and development. China is Cambodia's biggest source of foreign direct investment, with stated plans to spend $8bn on 360 different projects during the first seven months of 2011.
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