Beer promotion workers selling Heineken, Carlsberg, Bavaria and other beer in Cambodian bars and restaurants earn too little to make a decent living. ‘Promoting Decency?’, a report published today by the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) reveals that to compensate for their low wages, Cambodian beer promoters have to sit and drink beer with customers, often undergo sexual intimidation, have to work on their weekly days-off and occasionally resort to prostitution. As long as these workers do not receive a fixed monthly basic wage which is high enough to cover for their basic needs, these problems will not be solved.
The SOMO report builds on the results of previous research and deals with beer promotion workers employed by several national and international beer brewers operating in the Cambodian market. The report recognises several improvements over the past couple of years in the working conditions of beer promoters. These are mainly due to the efforts of Beer Selling Industry Cambodia (BSIC), the industry body of breweries that Heineken and Carlsberg are members of. Despite these efforts however, there are still a significant number of issues to be dealt with to provide decent working conditions for beer promotion workers.
Income far below living wage
The income of beer promotions workers is not sufficient to meet their basic needs. The vast majority of the beer promotion workers reported earning on average less than 100 USD per month, which is far below the amount reported when asked how much their basic needs are (177 USD on average), and even below the most conservative number for the estimation of a living wage in Cambodia (138 USD). Often it is not clear for the beer promotion workers how their performance fees and the amounts on their pay slips are calculated at the end of the month. And beer promotion workers often do not dare to take their annual leave days, out of fear of losing their job or part of their income. In some cases, they are not allowed to take all their annual leave.
Although it is forbidden by most of the breweries’ codes, a majority of the beer promotion workers interviewed for this research are still drinking beer with customers to increase their sales, reach the often unrealistic sales targets and increase the amount of tips received. In an environment where a lot of alcohol is consumed, the risks of abuse and sexual harassment of the beer promoters is present. Many beer promotion workers experience some form of disrespectful behaviour or unwanted touching. Cases of occasional prostitution have also been reported.
The SOMO report makes recommendations to beer companies to improve the working conditions of their beer promotion workers. The three most important are the following:
- Firstly, all beer promoters should receive a fixed monthly basic salary. The amount of this salary must allow workers to meet their basic needs. Workers should also receive a clear statement of wage payments as well as a clear accounting of beer sales which are used to calculate their incentives.
- Secondly, the right to freedom of association and to bargain collectively must be respected in practice. Employers must recognise and bargain with duly elected representatives of the workers on, among others things, what can be considered a living wage, allowing beer promotion workers a decent living.
- And thirdly, beer brands which are not yet members of the Beer Selling Industry Cambodia should either join the BSIC, or adopt its Code of Conduct. Although the Code of Conduct is not fully implemented, the situation of the workers promoting brands or breweries that are members of BSIC is generally better than those who promote non-BSIC brands or breweries.
Follow up after publication
In response to the report, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions Unions, LO, has entered into dialogue with the Carlsberg Group and the Dutch organisation of unions, FNV, opened discussions with Heineken.
‘The SOMO report recently made it on to the agenda of the social dialogue between FNV and Heineken regarding the situation of beer promotion workers in Cambodia. Heineken is prepared to keep looking for solutions to the reported issues in cooperation with others. In an international context, the contacts relevant to achieving this, on both sides, are being made,’ says Lucia van Westerlaak, policy staff member of the FNV.
To improve sales promoters’ conditions in Cambodia the Carlsberg Group and The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) have joined forces in a partnership where they agree to cooperate on different subjects. The LO and the Carlsberg Group have already started sharing information and establishing working groups as part of this cooperation to improve beer promoters’ working conditions in Cambodia.