Since the 1990’s, Cambodia’s garment industry has established itself as central to the nation’s economy. The garment industry is concentrated in and around the capital city, Phnom Penh, with a smaller number of factories scattered throughout the provinces.
An estimated 85 % of the garment factories are foreign controlled, mostly by Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporean and Malaysian investors, who moved to the country in the 1990s to take advantage of the low-cost labour market and the country’s quota-free access to US and EU markets.
The top five brands sourcing from Cambodia are H&M, GAP, Levi Strauss & Co, Adidas and Target.
Facts & Figures
- Population (2013): 15.2 million
- Employment in garment industry (2013): 500.000
- Garment % of GDP (2013): 13%
- Garment % of export (2012): 95%
- Value garment export in US$ (2012): €3.38 billion
- Percentage of the world market for garment (2008): 1.2%
- Minimum wage (2013): Riel 336000 (€72.64)
- Asia Floor Wage calculation (2013): Riel 1582668 (€285.83)
The challenges facing Cambodian workers
The minimum wage in Cambodia is just 25% of what Clean Clothes Campaign partners the Asia Floor Wage calculate to be a living wage for the country.
The majority of Cambodia’s garment workers are women, who travel to the city from rural areas in the hope that the garment industry will provide them with an income to support themselves and their families. However the reality is often very different.
Violence and intimidation
On December 24, 2013, Cambodian unions called for national strikes in protest at the minimum wage level.
Workers were demanding an increase in the minimum wage to USD 160 per month. As protests continued, the police and military responded with violence on January 2 and 3, killing at least 4 people and injuring almost 40.
At least 23 people have been detained and information about their condition and whereabouts remain scarce.
Clean Clothes Campaign along with partners are supporting workers and unions in Cambodia read more here.
Excessive overtime & short term contracts
The low pay workers receive mean that many workers have little choice but to work excessive hours in overtime to try and earn enough to pay for their most basic needs. Only 5% of factories in Cambodia are without excessive overtime. Extremely long working weeks of 70 hours or more are common practice.
Short term (or fixed-term) contracts, which are increasingly in use, mean that the threat of not having a contract renewed is used to force workers into overtime, as well as being used by employers to avoid having to pay benefits such as maternity pay, and to dissuade union membership.
Many of Cambodia’s garment workers suffer from health problems which can be directly attributed to their inadequate diets. Poverty wages mean that most garment workers are unable to afford to buy food that provides them with sufficient calories to stay healthy.
Research by Clean Clothes partners Labour Behind the Label and the Cambodian Legal Education Centre - Shop til they drop - found that on average workers daily calorie intake was just 1598 calories a day, around half the recommended amount for a woman working in an industrial context. One of the effects of this poor diet has been a series of mass fainting throughout factories, where garment workers are too weak and end up being hospitalised.
Find out more
Steffi Eckelmann a German photographer took a series of portraits of garment workers and interviewed them about their lives and dreams.
© Copyright 2013 Steffi Eckelmann