Protecting social and labour standards in Cambodia’s garment and textiles sector

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KT/Mai Vireak

The garment and textiles sector is Cambodia’s major industry and also the largest formal sector of employment.

About 640 factories hold export licences, and according to Cambodia’s General Department of Customs and Excise, exports of garments and footwear rose by 7.2 percent to $7.3 billion in 2016, up from $6.8 billion in 2015. Cambodia’s garment exports to the European Union grew by 14 percent in 2016 to $3.8 billion.

More than 700,000 workers are employed in the sector and over 80 percent of them are women, most of them between 16 and 25 years old.

The Royal Government of Cambodia, through its Industrial Development Policy 2015-20125, with technical support from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and other development partners, is committed to achieve progress on social and labour standards and on the wellbeing of industrial workers.

But several challenges still remain and the German government is committed to helping Cambodia overcome them.

The project “Social and Labour Standards in the Textile and Garment Sector in Asia (SLSG)”, implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), helps the Royal Government of Cambodia address these challenges by promoting labour and social standards through support of the public and private sectors.

The official partner of SLSG, in Cambodia, is the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.

SLSG has also been implemented by GIZ in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan and these efforts mark a considerable step towards building a sustainable global garment and textile industry.

The focus of the project is on strengthening communication and cooperation between the actors, both within the factories and at national and regional levels. It also supports state institutions in the implementation of measures promoting sustainability standards, such as improving the inspection system.

In Cambodia, with the support of the ILO Better Factory Programme, a system of labour inspections in the garment sector has been developed. Now, it is to be anchored in the system of the Royal Government of Cambodia.

SLSG builds on GIZ’s experience working in the fields of labour and social standards in several Asian countries, and transferring these to Cambodia.

The project provides advice and capacity development towards worker management committees to bridge their communication gap and foster understanding and respect, minimising conflicts and refusal to work.

Project interventions at Cambodia’s garment factory level also focus on two more areas: nutrition and transport security.

Malnutrition is prevalent among female garment workers and contributes to “mass fainting”, frequent sick leaves and low performance and productivity in the factories. To address this problem, GIZ is looking to improve workers’ nutrition through awareness raising and information, as well as through advising on the establishment of factory canteens providing quality food.

To support improvement of transport security, a newly commissioned GIZ study will analyse the specific risks and will give recommendations on the management of workers’ transport to protect their safety. At present, garment workers are usually transported on trucks that are not made for public transport and often do not comply with any road safety standards.

SLSG also facilitates exchange and dialogue at the regional level in Asia through conferences, workshops and study visits. Cambodia will be supported by SLSG to contribute to these events and to share their experiences and best practices.

On October 24, a wrap-up roundtable on sustainable production in the textile and garment sector will be held in Phnom Penh.

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