The Cambodian economy is heavily reliant on the garment industry, and the global garment industry is heavily reliant on Cambodia. The nation accounts for 45% of employed garment manufacturers worldwide. As of 2011, the industry was responsible for 80% of Cambodia’s total exports. However, Cambodia is also infamous for its poor treatment of factory workers, particularly in the garment industry. Here are six facts to understand labor rights violations in the Cambodian garment industry.
Facts About Labor Rights Violations in the Cambodian Garment Industry
- Fixed duration contracts lead to worker insecurity. Employers in the Cambodian garment industry have largely shifted from undetermined duration, or long-term, contracts to fixed-duration, or short-term, contracts. The employers said the shift was in the interest of competitive, flexible business. In reality, fixed-duration contracts have resulted in increased job insecurity, reduced enforcement of international labor laws, industrial relation breakdowns and massive strikes.
- Production targets create high-pressure work environments. To meet quotas, workers are often either forced to work overtime or enticed to do so with a small bonus that is usually never paid. In addition, some workers are often too intimidated to take breaks, even to use the bathroom or drink water.
- Gender discrimination is common. More than 90% of workers in the Cambodian garment industry are women, mostly from rural areas with only a primary school education. One example of gender discrimination is pregnancy-based discrimination, which is abundant in the industry. Employers are known to refuse employment to pregnant women, refuse to renew the contracts of women who become pregnant or even fire pregnant women as their due dates approach. Even if pregnant women remain employed, they receive no workplace accommodations and often have to quit due to fatigue.
- Factories frequently violate child labor laws. Though the minimum age requirement for employment in Cambodia is 15, many factories employ children between the ages of 12 and 14. Employers often require children to work long past their eight-hour workday maximum and pay them below minimum wage. To hide this violation, some employers tell the children to hide when visitors come to the factory.
- The government often busts unions. There were concentrated efforts to bust unions in at least 35 factories from 2012 to 2015. In December 2013, the Cambodian Minister of Labor introduced obstacles to union formation. The challenges included delaying union certification and giving factory management time to retaliate against union members. Similarly, poor government inspection of factories and labor law enforcement makes it nearly impossible for small unions to assert their rights.
- The Cambodian Ministry of Labor is making significant changes. In January of 2019, the Ministry of Labor introduced several labor law reforms. Among these was the introduction of bimonthly salary payments and seniority payments: compulsory, periodic payments made to employees with long term contracts. The government also introduced severance payments, which require employers to pay fixed-term contract employees at the end of a contract.
Many people in the Cambodian garment industry face labor rights violations due to a lack of enforcement of labor laws. However, the Cambodian government and international fashion retailers are taking measures to improve working conditions. These measures are the first step to creating better environments and living wages for Cambodian garment workers.
– Caroline Warrick-Schkolnik
Photo: Wikimedia Commons