Garment workers in Cambodia cost a small fraction of what you pay for your t-shirt or shoes.

discrimination-workers-cambodia-retailersIn October 2015 Cambodia lifted the official minimum wage of a garment worker to $US140 per month. The big unions had initially demanded $177 per month in view of the high cost of living in Phnom Penh, home to most garment factories.

The decision followed a vote among representatives of the government, factories and unions, in which the majority supported a raise from the current $128 to $135, which the government then increased to $140.

Not that the Government has a history of being generous. In early 2014, at least four people were killed and more than 20 were injured when police outside Cambodia’s capital opened fire to break up a protest by striking garment workers.

The clothing and footwear industry, 90% of staff of whom are women, is Cambodia’s biggest export earner, employing about 700,000 people in more than 700 garment and shoe factories. In 2014, the Southeast Asian country shipped more than $6 billion worth of products to the United States and Europe.

The average workweek of a garment factory worker is almost 60 hours, and conditions are often very poor by western standards. Check out this link to a report (Work faster or get out!) prepared by Human Rights Watch.

Their report was well researched: and is based on interviews with more than 340 people, including 270 workers from 73 factories in Phnom Penh and nearby provinces, union leaders, government representatives, labor rights advocates, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, and international apparel brand representatives.

Of some 200 apparel brands that source from Cambodia, Human Rights Watch was in contact with Adidas, Armani, Gap, H&M, Joe Fresh, and Marks and Spencer.

Some of these brands are getting their act together to prevent exploitation and abuses of the garment workers (do over time or get fired, sexual harassment, child labour etc)  but certainly not all.  Next time you buy Made in Cambodia (which should be a good thing) check the policies of the brands you’re supporting.  On a thirty dollar item, the labour component is probably no more than $1.50.

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How much do workers get paid in Cambodia?

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In a global economy, Cambodia’s salaries are often a case of negotiation between garment workers and the foreign-owned garment factories. The Government has recently signed-in a new minimum wage for these factory workers.

We recently issued pay rises for all staff at Savong’s School – in part because of inflation and the need for pay adjustments to keep up, but also to reflect experience, length of service and skill. Salaries range from $70 per month for a security guard through to $150 per month for the most senior teacher.  (Not the highest he could achieve in the open market – though we ensure unlimited sick leave and health care assistance.) 

As a reference point, a basic desk clerk role in Siem Reap will pay $45 per month, while a white-collar job for a graduate may pay $2-300 per month.

Garment workers, long underpaid by foreign-owned fashion companies have been awarded a rise in the minimum factory wage which is now $75 per month,