A ‘conflict of interest’? Lobbyists and unionists get government positions

GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo, seen speaking at an event last year, will be joining the Ministry of Labour.
GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo, seen speaking at an event last year, will be joining the Ministry of Labour. Facebook

Ken Loo, the top lobbyist for garment factory owners in Cambodia, has been appointed adviser at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training along with a handful of other factory owner lobbyists and pro-government unionists.

A royal decree dated October 24 grants Loo, the secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), an adviser position with a rank equivalent to undersecretary of state. GMAC is an industry group that represents most garment factories in Cambodia and often lobbies and negotiates on their behalf, including in wage negotiations with workers’ unions.

Loo said yesterday he was unaware if the adviser role was salaried, and added he would not be stepping down from his role as the secretary-general of GMAC.

Independent labour activists, meanwhile, criticised the move and called it a clear conflict of interest.

“If he is still general secretary of GMAC, then it is conflict of interest,” said Moeun Tola, head of labour rights group Central. Tola added that any union leaders appointed to a ministry role would have conflicts of interest as well.

Ath Thorn, president of the independent union Cambodian Labour Confederation, agreed with Tola, and said the appointment would affect future labour negotiations.

“This position will impact the workers’ benefits, and when we do negotiation for workers, he can obstruct with this position,” he said.

Loo dismissed those concerns as baseless, saying the appointment was formalising an already-existing relationship between manufacturers and the ministry.

“We work in cooperation with both the ministry and trade unions, so I don’t think there’s any conflict there,” he said, adding that some union leaders also held an advisory position.

Several pro-government union leaders, including Ly Chan Sopheakdey and Gnuon Bunarith from the CPP-aligned National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia (NACC), were also granted roles within the ministry in the same sub-decree. Som Aun, the NACC’s leader who previously held a position in the ministry, agreed with Loo that the appointment was free from conflict.

“I don’t think the new position of Ken Loo is a conflict of interest, as he’s only adviser, not in the administration work position,” he said, adding the same was true of any union officials working within the ministry.