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Annual Conference Addresses Garment Woes

Cambodia lost nearly 100 factories and 40,000 jobs last year in the wake of the global financial crisis, a government official said Monday, though some other factories have since opened and put more people to work.

“The ministry noticed that from January through November 2009, garment and shoe factories, in total 93, have been closed,” Om Mean, secretary of state for the Ministry of Employment, told an annual conference for garment workers on Monday. More than 38,000 were originally put out of work by the closures, he said.

However, he estimated that job losses were now around 30,000, thanks to newly opened smaller factories replacing the larger, shuttered operations.

World Bank officials warn that the garment sector job losses will contribute to an increase in poverty, from 1 percent to 3 percent.

‘This is a grave impact,” said Qimiao Fan, World Bank’s Cambodia director. “So investors and workers must ensure the standard of work and competitiveness.”

Sok Lor, executive director of the Arbitration Council Foundation, said garment factories could be saved by increased commitment of government institutions, investors and workers to cooperate.

The garment sector is Cambodia ’s top export earner, reaching $2 billion in 2008. Om Mean said Monday the country now has 516 factories and nearly 360,000 workers.

To improve the sector, the government must settle questions faced by investors, said Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democrat Union. Those include high prices for water and electricity, poor infrastructure, corruption and low worker capacity, he said.