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Beverage Companies Join To Protect Their 'Beer Girls'

Six beverage companies have joined together to set out rules protecting their promoters, or "beer girls."

Heineken International, Asia Pacific Breweries, Cambodia Breweries Ltd, Guinness, Carlsberg and Cambrew say they are forming an association to protect the safety and improve the image of beer girls.

The women, who often wear provocative dresses with sashes emblazoned with the name of their beers, work bars and beer gardens throughout Cambodia. They continually are exposed to sexual harassment and advances. They earn very little, have little power to refuse and often end up prostituting for cash or gifts. When they complain, they are easily ignored—or dismissed. Yet very few bars in the country operate without them.

The companies want to raise the salaries of the women and help protect them from harassment, they said in a statement. They are offering transportation to and from work and to educate them on HIV, AIDS and contraception. They will also ban them from sitting with clients and will put stronger measures in place to stop sexual harassment at their breweries, the companies said.

The two main goals are to raise the image of the girls—who are often stigmatized in Cambodia culture—and to promote their health and safety, Ty Sophana, head of human resources at Cambodia Breweries, said.

The news was received with skepticism by some women who work each night, exposed to risks of harassment, solicitations and worse.

"It's nice to have the association, because there hasn't been one before, but I'm afraid it might just be words and not action," Sok Srei Leak, a promoter for Tiger Beer, told VOA.

In the past, there has been no organization or authority to help the girls, but the beer companies' move shows they are taking responsibility to help their employees, Chi Socheat, a reproductive health official at the agency CARE, said.

More than 4,000 young women and girls work as beer promoters in Cambodia. A great percentage of them claim they are continually harassed and almost as many say they are victims of at least one assault.

Sy De Fine, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Women's Affairs, welcomed the measures, adding that her ministry was working to put more protections in place for the women.