Hey look, it’s the new city bus!

City Bus 01

Hooray for mass transit traffic solutions!
Can we get a skytrain next?

There is however, a disturbing aspect to the bus stops: they use a tactic of what’s called ‘disciplinary architecture’ where seats cannot be slept on due to hand rails. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disciplinary_architecture

Bus In Phnom Penh 02

The bus stops have varying degrees of rain shelter, worth considering.

Public works should take into account all of the public. It’s a challenge in Cambodia, with its big wealth gap.
(That’s why the rest rooms at the Veal Preah Mean park have families living there.)

But it should not be unthinkable to simply be kind. If you have similar examples of discriminatory / disciplinary architecture in Cambodia, feel free to share.

Vice’s Brothel Raid

After Nick Kristof’s infamous ‘live tweet’ brothel raid and Mira Sorvino / CNN Freedom’s follow up, it appears now that Vice Magazine wants to get in on the dramatic action. Let’s take a look at how successful they are.

Live coverage of police activity is a staple in the USA. But filming brothel raids where there may be underage children?
It is often in direct violation of international and local law, if minors are depicted. And I am skeptical of the ‘staging’ of any raid done where a camera is present.

I have never quite gottenVice‘ magazine and its sprawling media brand. Primarily billed as an edgy entertainment magazine/site, its attempts to veer into ‘investigative journalism’ are a bit jarring.

In this new 12-13 minute segment, ‘founder’ Suroosh Alvi tries to cover a lot of ground but doesn’t mention the copious reporting from local news sources, nor further threads to follow.

Vice's Brothel Raid

The segment opens with Suroosh on a ‘hostess bar’ street, where he fails to differentiate between the international and local sex trade.

It then follows a raid by the Ministry of the Interior. “It’s a very heavy scene”….”This is as dark as it gets right here,” comments Suroosh.

The video then follows the choices offered to the arrested women, noting the rescue-to-garment work pipeline, and the prison-like nature of some retraining facilities. A woman who has returned to sex work is interviewed.
(Vice cites her community as near ‘abandoned’ railway tracks, which in reality is contended land, where most live under threat of eviction.)

But Suroosh never names the NGOs and training facilities, a common flaw that is seen across the board in nearly all ‘parachute’ reportage.

There is a brief soundbite with Dave Welsh of the Solidarity Center, which does good networking in a changing union environment. The camera moves quickly on.

We Must Fight

Narrator Suroosh then attends a wage protest outside a factory. Which is where the clip really loses its footing.
There is no mention of the fact that most rank and file union members are women, but that the leadership is dominated by men.

Suroosh then agitates for the workers to get his camera crew inside, shouting ‘Solidarity!’ to the crowd, so he can do interior factory shots – precious components for a video news story.

Vice Should We Help

The crowd ushers him inside, at great personal risk – the event had seen violence by hired thugs earlier in the day.
In a voice-over narration, it’s noted that the factory manufactures for H&M, Old Navy, Benetton and Russell Athletics – all of whom failed to provide replies for this story. Vice doesn’t mention any brands that it has corporate ties with, such as Nike.

An English-speaking staffer (of what sounds like ‘Barry’ factory) takes Suroosh aside and discusses the factory perspective with him, in an air-conditioned meeting room.

Suroosh is then sent back to the waiting crowd as an envoy with a message from management.

Vice Microphone

Led to a stage, with the rapt attention of protesters, Suroosh states: “It’s not appropriate for me to get involved in these contract negotiations.” So much for solidarity.
He then exploits his stage presence further by asking the assembled protesters what their current wage is.

Not True Vice

The assembled crowd shouts that it’s too low. Suroosh / Vice fails to mention Cambodia minimum wage laws, as well as salary in relation to overtime – key components of the overall wage issue.

He concludes that the factory is ‘far above average’ compared to others. Suroosh has obtained his key ‘inside the factory’ footage, so it’s time to move on. Pretty quick to forget the beatings that took place earlier in the day. If that’s Vice’s standard for ‘above average’, they are essentially accepting violence as a part of the garment manufacturing process.

The segment moves on, adding context about the protests from 2013 and earlier in 2014.

Sooresh: “It’s crazy when you can go to a big retailer in America and buy a hoodie for ten bucks.” Maybe you should take that up with your staff?

As he says this, he is inside an unnamed garment factory. Who gave him permission? And under what conditions? That he not disclose the name of what he labels a ‘sweatshop’?

The clip concludes by noting that many women enter the sex trade voluntarily.

It’s hard to sum up such a big topic in a short clip. It’s slickly produced and fast-moving, but omits numerous key facts, and doesn’t acknowledge the hard work of local Cambodian reporters who have helped to break this news internationally.

Vice is really at sea here. Is this segment an editorial or a straight news report? If they’re attempting ‘gonzo journalism‘ it’s a weak attempt. Their confused role is best exemplified by pretending to be a part of a labor protest, only to get precious visuals and comments for their clip, and then leaving the crowd without any resolution.

In a nutshell, that’s my opinion of ‘Vice’. Professing solidarity, pretending to be your friend, but exploiting the situation for their own benefit – then leaving.

Responsible parties:
Vice Credits All

For more ‘up to the minute’ details on garment industry doings in Cambodia, check OpenDevCam’s tracking of the garment industry in the press. http://www.opendevelopmentcambodia.net/en/?s=garment&post_type=news

For critical analysis, these reports are a good start:
‘Tearing Apart At The Seams’ http://www.sithi.org/temp.php?url=publication_detail.php&mid=4754&lg=

’10 Years Of Better Factories’: http://www.fibre2fashion.com/news/apparel-news/newsdetails.aspx?news_id=115382

‘Monitoring In The Dark: Improving Factory Working Conditions In Cambodia’ http://humanrightsclinic.law.stanford.edu/project/monitoring-in-the-dark/

“Caught between the Tiger and the Crocodile”: Cambodian Sex Workers’ Experiences of Structural and Physical Violence http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15240657.2014.877726#.VD9qZGeSxNt

For a list of actual unions and labor organizations, a current list is here.

Workers Information Centre: http://youtu.be/X5qFfp1fHRg / http://ajws.org/where_we_work/asia/cambodia/workers_information_centre_wic.html
Solidarity Center: http://www.solidaritycenter.org/content.asp?contentid=449
‘Clean Clothes Campaign’: http://www.cleanclothes.org/livingwage/cambodia

In the (ancient) days before Facebook dominated Cambodia, our small but tiny community of bloggers (AKA ‘Cloggers’) was full of enthusiasm.

Many of them became ‘trainers of trainers’ via the ‘Personal Information Technology Workshop‘, holding weekend workshops for university students and getting them started on email & basic blogging.

These included Hou Virak, Bun Tharum, ‘Big Kalyan’, ‘Little Kalyan‘, Be Chantra, Chak Sopheap, Nearirath Sreng, Lux Mean. A new face at the time was Kounila Keo.

Many of these ‘blog evangelists’ have found a niche for themselves as writers, pundits, organizers and advocates, and used their online presence as a combination of CV / writing sample / profile. Many have gotten overseas scholarships and jobs based on their heightened profile and reputation. (Virak’s now in Kenya!) Why are they in demand? There’s a need for representative Southeast Asian / Cambodian voices in global conversations.

In a nutshell, that was my encouragement to a younger crowd at this year’s BarCamp Phnom Penh: share your thoughts — and you’ll meet other people who want to engage with your views.  Simply share and people will want to share with you too.  News, opinions, and opportunities.

Case in point: ‘ClogherChak Sopheap regularly blogged about human rights, contributed to the Global Voices blogging aggregation platform, and landed a postgraduate scholarship in Peace Studies in Japan. She regularly chronicled her work and opinions working in the field of human rights, and received accolades as a pundit and commentator, moving from personal blog opinions to public editorials.


Her efforts to engage the global community in contemporary human rights concerns took her to many regional and international meetings. She also ‘gave back’ to the local community by joining the team that brought ‘BlogFest Asia’ to Cambodia.

This week she was  lauded by President Obama and profiled on Voice Of America in her role as the head of Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).  It’s very gratifying to see one of the ‘home team’ getting international praise.

Does the USA government ‘stand with’ civil society? Well… this can certainly be seen as a chance to hold the States to this public commitment. And if anyone can leverage this, Sopheap and CCHR are up to the task. Bravo!

Above: Chak Sopheap & VOA team (photo credit: CCHR)

“Obama Praises Two Civil Society Activists” (Voice Of Democracy (In Khmer) http://vodhotnews.com/24472
“Obama Honors Slain Activist, Praises Rights Worker” (Cambodia Daily)
“Human Rights Deteroriating in Cambodia, Says Activist”
http://youtu.be/rEidqq4h7SM (Video link)
“Obama Honors Two Cambodian Rights Workers” (Voice of America)
Obama praised Cambodian human rights activists and forestry (Radio Free Asia (In Khmer))
“President Obama addresses the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting”
http://youtu.be/eEZrZcIYAPA (Video Link)
“Remarks by the President at Clinton Global Initiative” (Transcript)
Cambodian Center For Human Rights Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cambodian-Center-for-Human-Rights-CCHR/206984670430
US Embassy In Cambodia Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/us.embassy.phnom.penh/photos/a.390395653223.168690.79770243223/10152478435913224/?type=1


Let’s see if I can live up to this hype. :)

Join us: http://2014.barcampphnompenh.org

This last week garment workers took time out of their very busy working days to organize a showing of the clothes they spend hours putting together.

It was a very opportune moment as a number of labels were in town to meet with manufacturers.

I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen reenactments of state repression… on the catwalk.
Impressed by the bravery of the participants and enthused by their work to speak directly about their hopes, dreams, needs.
Watch the video, check out more news coverage below. (Kudos to Workers Information Centre for organising the event.)

Beautiful Clothes, Ugly Reality from Heather Stilwell on Vimeo.


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