As night falls in Phonm Penh, thousands of weary workers stream from textile factories, reflecting the abundance of jobs created by the clothing industry’s desire for cheap labor.
However, as the number of international clothes companies tapping into Cambodia’s workforce grows, so does anger at the low wages and tough conditions that come with such employment in the global garment industry.
Twenty-five-year-old Ou Nin looks exhausted as she describes working for a US clothes brand for just above US$5 a day.
“They print on T-shirts. The smell is very unpleasant, it is unbearable,” she said while waiting for the truck to take her home.
Overwork, malnutrition and poor ventilation are to blame for staff fainting in factories since 2010, said Moeun Tola, program manager at the Community Legal Education Centre, which provides advocacy for workers.
“It’s often hot inside these factories. Sometimes they inhale toxic substances,” he said, adding that last year, 1,100 workers are known to have lost consciousness at work while a further 30 fainted in a workshop in mid-January.
With bonuses and overtime, workers can earn an average of US$110 a month — a low salary given Cambodia’s cost of living — forcing many to work beyond the legal limit of 60 hours a week.
A series of strikes point to festering discontent — leaving the big global clothes brands and the factories they subcontract to trade accusations over who is driving salaries down.
Protests by workers have also turned ugly. Three women, employees of Puma supplier Kaoway Sports, were wounded when a gunman opened fire on protesters demanding better working conditions at factories in eastern Svay Rieng Province in February last year.
The shooting prompted Puma, Gap and H&M to express their “deep concern” and urge a thorough investigation.
However, discontent lingers on the factory floor where 400,000 of the 650,000 people employed in the industry work for foreign firms.
Soey Eao, who has worked in the industry for five years, lives in a dormitory behind her factory, paying nearly US$20 a month to share a room with three colleagues.
Hundreds of workers co-exist in similar spartan concrete lodgings, without water or electricity.
“With overtime, I can reach US$78 a month. I work 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days in a row to earn more,” Soey Eao said, adding that she sends one-third of her salary to her family. “I’ve already protested for a raise. I cannot even eat well because I’m trying to put money aside, I just buy the minimum to survive.”
Soey Eao is hopefulthat her situation may change with her union pushing to boost the minimum wage from the US$60 a month to about US$100.
Yet while strikes have turned up the heat on factory owners and international brands, she said that many workers still “do not even know they have rights.”
The International Labour Office, which regularly inspects textile mills in the country, has called for a new industrial agreement between the government, factory owners and unions.
“Clearly there is some room for additional payment,” the group’s Jill Tucker said, adding that after Bangladesh, Cambodia is one of the cheapest places to make garments.
Cambodia’s factory owners say the problem is not their fault and blame the profit margins of foreign brands for driving down wages.
“If our wages were comparable to Vietnam, would investors come to Cambodia? No way,” said Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia.
“They [buyers] are the ones who set the margin, not us,” he said, warning that if Cambodia raises the minimum wage it would “have to be prepared for what comes after,” hinting that companies may choose to relocate.
However, several big brands contacted by media denied they were cutting wages.
Swedish fashion giant H&M, which in October last year was forced to deny accusations that it encouraged “slave-like” wages at a subcontractor’s factory, said it was not directly responsible for the factories producing its garments.
“H&M does not own any factories and therefore does not set or pay factory workers’ wages,” company spokesman Malin Bjorne said, adding that Cambodian factories produce for many brands.
“The employees at a factory are paid the same wages regardless of which brand they are producing garments for — and regardless of what the final price will be in the store,” Bjorne said.
The London Metal Exchange (LME) discovered bags of stones instead of the nickel that underpinned a handful of its contracts at a warehouse in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in a revelation that would deliver another blow to confidence in the embattled exchange. The amount of metal represents just 0.14 percent of live nickel inventories on the LME, worth about US$1.3 million at current prices, so the immediate effect on the metals markets is limited. However, the shock announcement has much wider implications. In an industry riddled with scandals, the LME’s contracts are viewed as unquestionably safe. The news that even a few of
Oil on Friday posted its worst weekly loss since the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic as banking turmoil poisoned investor sentiment. West Texas Intermediate for April delivery dropped 2.36 percent to US$66.74 per barrel, falling 12.96 percent for the week, the largest drop in almost three years. Brent crude for May delivery fell 2.32 percent to US$72.97, posting a weekly loss of 11.85 percent. The failure of Silicon Valley Bank and troubles at Credit Suisse Group AG drove investors from risk assets, with oil-options covering accelerating the sell-off. “Crude action this week reminded many of how quickly the commodity can be decimated by
Singapore pushed New York off the top spot for the strongest growth in residential rents in the final quarter of last year, fueled by a supply crunch and strong demand. The city-state saw annual rents jump 28 percent in the quarter from a year earlier, Knight Frank said in a report. New York followed with 19 percent growth, while London and Toronto took the third and fourth spots, a survey of prime residential rents across 10 cities showed. Singapore’s soaring rents — driven partly due to a lack of supply of new housing during the COVID-19 pandemic — have been a source of
US-based mobile chip designer Qualcomm Inc yesterday opened a manufacturing engineering and testing center in Hsinchu, expanding its presence in Taiwan. Qualcomm also expects to accelerate its purchases in Taiwan, which already rose to NT$240 billion (US$7.9 billion) last year, up from NT$90 billion five years earlier, and should hit NT$300 billion next year. The center is to provide services for the supply chain in the semiconductor industry, Roawen Chen (陳若文), senior vice president and chief supply chain and operations officer of Qualcomm, said at the facility’s inauguration ceremony. It is Qualcomm’s largest and most advanced engineering testing center outside of the company’s