Accessibility links

Breaking News

Cambodia's Garment Workers Hit by Recession


Over the last decade economic growth has helped lift Cambodia out of its poverty. The signs were everywhere; bustling construction sites around Phnom Penh ; young workers filing into factories, filling orders for eager clients abroad.

More than 400,000 jobs in the textile industry fuelled the hopes of many young women whose earnings in the city helped support their extended families in the countryside.

Ny Sopheak: "I worked in the packing section of a textile factory. I earned sometimes $60 a month from the factory work and I sent $10 a month to my father."

But that factory, like dozens of others, has now closed. The global recession scared investors and shut down factories.

Twenty-three-year-old Ny Sopheak, like 50,000 other Cambodians, recently lost her job in the garment industry.

This in a country where not having a job can mean not eating, or perhaps just having one meal a day.

Ny Sopheak: "Since I don't have enough food I feel so weak and I often get sick."

Today Ny is sharing one egg and some rice with her roommate, Horn Devy who also lost her factory job. That's one egg between two people. Horn feels she can't go on much longer.

Horn Devy: "It's very difficult. It's a hard life, living in a small room like this."

Horn is only 15 years old. She was sent to work to help out her family, small time farmers and basket weavers who can't make ends meet.

Horn's mother says she worries about her, so young, and away from the family. Even so, she wanted Horn to earn money, so that her brothers can finish school.

But having lost her job, Horn has gone from providing for her family to becoming an extra burden. Asked how she feels about this, she says,

Horn Devy: "It's hard to say. I am starving. When you have no food it's very difficult to feel anything."

Her story is unusual because of her young age, but all over Cambodia's capital there are women who are falling into abject poverty as they lose their jobs in the textile factories.

Meanwhile, thousands of factory workers have turned to the streets to pressure the government to guarantee their jobs, their incomes, and their access to food.

And while Cambodia has been hard-hit, other countries are worried too. Guaranteeing the availability of food for everyone is now an urgent issue for governments across Asia-Pacific.

Many governments are now looking at how to invest in agriculture, to stem tide of migration towards the cities, and to help make food more affordable.

But textile factories too, are needed. If they keep closing, experts worry that much of the progress achieved in places like Cambodia, in education, in economic development, and in human rights, could be at risk; and with it the future of the entire generation.

Information for this report was provided by APTN.