- North Korea proposes talks with South on commercial projects
- Not just Bangladesh, garment makers pressured in Cambodia as well
- U.S. lawmakers to introduce new bill to punish cyber theft
Posted: 05 Jun 2013 08:57 PM PDT
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea on Thursday proposed official talks with South Korea to normalise commercial projects, including the Kaesong industrial zone that was shut down at the height of tensions between the rivals in early April.
North Korea's state-owned KCNA news agency also said the government would restore severed communications channels if the South accepted the offer of talks, indicating it was prepared to roll back a series of steps it has taken since March that reinforced the deterioration in relations between the two sides.
The North, in a statement by its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea which handles ties with the South, also proposed discussing the reopening of tours to a mountain resort and family reunions as well as to hold events to mark the 2000 summit of their leaders that opened a decade of warmer ties.
"We propose holding talks between authorities of the North and the South for the normalisation of the operation in the KIZ (Kaesong industrial zone) and the resumption of tours of Mt. Kumgang on the occasion of the anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration," the committee said.
The June declaration refers to the outcome of the 2000 summit between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the North's Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011.
South Korea has previously proposed to hold talks with the North on reopening the Kaesong zone, but Seoul has been reluctant to link those talks with the summit commemoration, saying Pyongyang would try to use them for propaganda.
It was not immediately clear whether Seoul will consider the North's statement as an acceptance of its offer for talks. Officials at the Unification Ministry, which handles Seoul's ties with Pyongyang, could not immediately be reached for comment on a holiday on Thursday.
From the beginning of March, North Korea has threatened to attack the South and U.S. military bases in the Pacific using its missile and nuclear arsenal, driving tensions to the highest point in decades.
The daily barrage of threats and steps to cut off communications channels with the South and the U.S.-led forces guarding the Korean border ceased in late April, timed with the end of annual military drills by the South and U.S. forces.
Experts said the threats may have been designed by the North to reinforce leader Kim Jong-un's stature as a military leader and to beef up his grip on the country's nearly 1.2-million strong army.
(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 05 Jun 2013 08:36 PM PDT
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - As investment in Cambodia's textile industry surges, so is labour unrest, putting pressure on suppliers to the world's big garment brands to raise wages and improve sometimes grim conditions in one of the last bastions of low-cost factories.
Hundreds of angry workers rampaged this week through a textile plant in Cambodia that supplies U.S. sportswear company Nike Inc, clashing with police over their demands for a pay hike.
The violence came just weeks after over 1,100 workers were killed in the collapse of a building housing garment factories in Bangladesh, another impoverished Asian nation where mass-produced textiles are the biggest export earner.
Cambodia is considered one of the better locations in the world for low-cost garment manufacturing with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) monitoring pay and working conditions at many factories.
But strikes and sometimes violent protests have been on the rise as unions emboldened by a shortage of skilled workers press complaints that companies have failed to raise wages enough or improve safety.
Strikes by the country's more than 300,000 garment workers nearly quadrupled last year to 134, according to the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, the main industry body. The 48 strikes so far this year are already more than in the whole of 2010 or 2011.
"Supply of skilled workers is a problem," said Kaing Monika, a business development manager at the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), the main industry body.
"Most existing factories are running at full capacity."
Nike was the latest big brand to face protest action at its Cambodia-based suppliers in recent months, joining H&M Hennes and Mauritz AB, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Gap Inc, and Puma SE among others.
The international brands buy garments from local manufacturers and do not have direct control over pay or working conditions. But the major companies have signed to the ILO scheme aimed at ensuring suppliers meet legal requirements on wages and work conditions.
The garments industry has become by far the country's biggest export earner, with shipments up 10 percent in 2012 to $4.44 billion.
Until this year, the minimum wage in the textile sector was $61 a month, compared to $38 in Bangladesh and more than $150 in China. The government raised it in March to $80, including a health care subsidy, but strikers at the Nike factory and other workers complain that wage rises have not kept up with costs.
"Life is hard, we have a lot of expenses with a low wage. Sometimes, we just borrow money from other workers," said 28-year-old Mao Pov, one of those on strike at the Sabrina Garment Manufacturing plant that supplies Nike as well as privately held Wilson Sporting Goods Co.
Inflation in Cambodia was 3 percent in 2012, which is low for developing nations in Asia, although many workers complain the price of basic items has risen faster.
Sweden's H&M, the world's second-largest fashion retailer, said a general election scheduled to be held in July had caused some instability among workers at plants run by its Cambodian suppliers.
"This being an election year, the situation in the country was generally more disorderly than usual during early spring," said spokeswoman Andrea Roos. After minimum wages were increased, "the situation on the labour market in Cambodia has been more stable", she said.
Workers at the Nike-linked plant first went on strike on May 21 even though the factory had raised their minimum wage. The union on strike says that the health and other benefits that were previously paid separately were folded into the new wage, and is demanding another $14 hike.
A spokeswoman for Nike told Reuters last week that compensation at the Cambodian plant was the responsibility of the factory, but that Nike was in "close contact" with the factory and would "continue to monitor the situation".
The Southeast Asian nation's textile industry has often been touted as a model for fair production because of the ILO's Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) programme that has monitored factories there for more than a decade.
But union leaders and activists say the programme has masked a deterioration in workers' rights as factory owners have taken advantage of the BFC's lack of enforcement powers and responded to pressure from buyers for ever lower prices.
Factories regularly violate union rights and exceed legal limits on overtime work, a report by Stanford Law School's International Human Rights Clinic released in February found. The BFC found evidence of sharply worsening fire safety standards at factories in its most recent report this year.
In May, two workers were killed at a factory making running shoes for Asics Corp when part of a warehouse fell in on them at a company that was not part of the ILO programme. Thousands of workers have been taken sick in mass fainting incidents in recent years -- including at the Sabrina factory -- a phenomenon that has been blamed on a combination of poor nutrition, long working hours and poor ventilation.
"The brands cannot hide behind the ILO," said David Welsh, country director at Solidarity Center in Phnom Penh, which advocates for worker rights.
"If the brands are not pressuring factories to improve, they are not going to improve because everybody is out to make as much money in the industry as they possibly can."
(Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Jason Szep and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 05 Jun 2013 07:51 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the United States, three U.S. lawmakers plan to propose a new law that would punish hackers backed by China, Russia or other foreign governments for cyber spying and theft.
The new bill, to be introduced on Thursday, would freeze U.S. assets of individual foreign hackers and revoke visas for them and their families, according to a spokeswoman for Representative Mike Rogers, one of the authors of the measure.
Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee and leads cybersecurity efforts in Congress, is introducing the bill together with Democratic Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio and Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.
President Barack Obama will meet with Xi in California this week and plans to tell him that Washington considers Beijing responsible for any cyber attacks launched from Chinese soil and that China must abide by international "rules of the road" on cybersecurity.
China has consistently denied U.S. accusations of cyber hacking and has insisted it is more a victim than a perpetrator.
The White House declined to specify what, if any, punitive measures the United States might take if Xi refuses to cooperate and the cyber threats persist.
"Cyber hackers from nation-states like China and Russia have been aggressively targeting U.S. markets, stealing valuable intellectual property, and then repurposing it and selling it as their own," Rogers' office said.
The new bill, the text of which has not yet been released, will be the second such legislation taken up by Congress after a group of senators introduced the Deter Cyber Theft Act last month.
That Senate bill focuses on tracking nations that engage in economic or industrial cyber espionage and blocking imports of products containing stolen U.S. technology, among other things. It was introduced by Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, and Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
The House bill will focus on identifying individual hackers instead of companies or products, to make their names public and force them to face consequences, said Kelsey Knight, spokeswoman for Rogers.
Both bills are expected to face a challenge in Congress this year. A divided Congress has not approved much legislation in recent years, while it has been consumed by partisan fiscal battles.
The House earlier this year passed another cybersecurity bill co-authored by Rogers, which is meant to ease sharing of cyber threat data between companies and the government. Senators are working on their own version of information-sharing legislation.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Christopher Wilson)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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