The exploitation of Cambodian garment factory workers has escalated to the point of absolute abomination.
Although one of Asia’s poorest countries, approximately 400,000 Cambodians work in the garment sector, which accounts for $5 billion of the country’s exports. Since 2010 the low cost of manufacturing and labor in Cambodia has attracted large fashion name brands to the Asian nation in the name of fast fashion. The working conditions of garment factory workers were never acceptable in the first place, and it was only a matter of time before a reaction was to take place.
Back in January 2014 large crowds of Cambodian garment manufacturing workers organized themselves into protest groups to attest the extremely low monthly wage of less than $80, almost half of which goes toward renting an 8 by 8 foot space often shared by at least 3 people. Although there is no evidence of violent action coming from the protesters, the government sent out police forces to control the crowds. This culminated in the death of 5 and major injuries for 38 of the protesters.
The strikes have continued at various factories in the nation’s industrial areas, a major one which made international headlines in June. The situation in these Cambodian factories is dire, with overtime hours a regular part of the work day, horrible ventilation and light in the factories, meager meals and toxic fumes. These conditions have led to many mass faintings that were totally written off by authorites. As Ken Loo of the Cambodian Manufacturer’s Assocation remarks: “Mass faintings happen in any factory in the world, but why is it that only the ones in Cambodia get reported? It’s wrong to call it mass fainting. It’s two, three, four, five people who faint. The rest start feeling nauseous and uncomfortable.” You bet they do when working in unventilated rooms with toxic chemicals and hot, humid weather, possibly even resulting in death.
The situation is complicated by the fact that energy and raw material costs have risen over the past several years, but we’re still not paying any more for those GAP shirts or H&M’s latest collection than we did 5 years ago. Although negotiations for wage increases for Cambodian factories are slated to take place this fall, factory owners are adamant that they wont be able to afford them. But why? Quite simply because the consumers at the top of the chain continue to buy these amazingly cheap fast fashion must-haves. Once we realize the power of our purchasing decisions, the era of labor exploitation will hopefully coming to a hefty halt.
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