Cambodia: a small South-East Asian nation neighboured by Thailand, Vietnam and Laos with a population of roughly 15 million. It’s one of those countries you’ve heard of, but never really knew much about. Well, we are here to tell you about it.
Despite becoming a growing tourist destination over the past decade, Cambodia is not only paradise for keen travellers but many international garment producers. Just trailing behind China and Bangladesh, Cambodia’s garment industry accounts for over one third of the country’s GDP, generating almost $6.5 million in revenue. Just like we mentioned in our post about Bangladesh, these statistics should be celebrated, but the reality is far from happy days.
Despite strong labour laws being drafted in the late 1990’s and trade agreements with the US in 2002, Cambodia’s worker’s rights are still being abused today. Being forced to work double and triple shifts without overtime compensation is the norm along with pressures to achieve impossible workloads, malnutrition, no amenity breaks and mental abuse. Toxic fumes, bad ventilation and heat exhaustion are also not uncommon.
The result of these factors have lead to a recurring theme in the Cambodian sweatshop – fainting. In fact, fainting has become so popular; crowds of hundreds often do it at the same time. In 2011, nearly 300 Cambodian workers passed out manufacturing knitwear for Swedish fashion giant, H&M which authorities have blamed on malnutrition, poor ventilation and toxic fumes. Of course, factory owners deny these claims. Throughout the whole year, almost 1,000 workers were reported to have fainted due to similar reasons. In 2014 Puma and Adidas became the culprit of another mass fainting incident where over 100 workers fainted in factories producing their goods. Overall, however, reports have shown that accumulatively, between 1,500-2,000 Cambodian workers have fainted between 2011 to 2014.
Despite this, factory workers are still subjected to unfair working conditions where they are often threatened with the loss of their jobs. Pregnant women especially are prone to this treatment where they would be dismissed without pay once they are showing.
What’s more upsetting than this is that the country’s government is doing very little to support the welfare of their workers. In fact, “very little” is an understatement. In 2014, the country’s police and military forces opened fire against garment workers and activists who organised a protest to increase wages. This conflict lead to the death of four people with many more injured. This clearly shows the level of abuse that encircles the Sweatshop model. Almost unheard of in our context, change is much needed to ensure social justice and equality.
It’s time to #CutTheSweat and realise what’s happening.