Since the Bangladesh garment factory collapse, the battle between workers and management has been hotting up in Cambodia. Despite poor conditions and wages, employers in this cut-throat industry are standing firm.
Cambodia has been held up to the world as a model of how the garment industry should be, but workers like Bopha live on a meagre salary and don’t have enough to eat. “My health is deteriorating. I want to quit, but there are no jobs.” Protests and strikes amongst the predominantly female employees of this booming industry are being suppressed, sometimes with lethal force and live ammunition. “We won’t use violence, we’ll protest peacefully”, insists Ath Thorn, a union leader. Ken Loo, the Secretary General of the Garment Manufacturers Association remains defiant. “We don’t come to Cambodia to help you. We come to Cambodia to make a profit.” Yet despite the chaos, there are also increasingly powerful forces backing better working conditions, including some big-name brands. But will it make a difference?