Canadia Industrial Park on Veng Sreng Boulevard is eerily quiet. The garment manufacturing hub of Phnom Penh is normally bustling and crowded with thousands of garments workers.
Every day, garment workers make a beeline to their factories, but not before stopping at the plethora of vendors selling food, drinks, and household items. The vendors serve the needs of these workers, creating a microcosm of economic dependence around industrial parks and factories.
Recently, dozens of factories temporarily suspended their operations – likely due to the coronavirus pandemic and potential reduction of orders to the EU – forcing thousands of factory employees out of work.
At the market in Canadia Industrial Park, workers used to venture about to buy groceries and household products, or maybe even get a haircut. These days, however, most shop owners and vendors are waiting for customers in vain.
Embracing her two-year-old daughter as she rocks back-and-forth in a hammock, Leng Sinoun explained how her income had dramatically plummeted in the last few months.
The 37-year-old clothes seller had moved to Phnom Penh in 2006. She was able to earn around $100 a month with around 50 to 60 customers
She said this was barely enough to break even, let alone take care of living costs. But now, with only about a dozen customers a day, she manages to earn between $30 and $40 a month.
"It's just that there's not much work for the workers. And some are getting a meager salary," she said.
"Some garment workers said that their salary is not enough and it's hard for them to support their livelihood. That's why they don't buy much."
With a decreasing income, Sinoun had to cut down her daily food expenditure from 10,000 riels (about $2.5) to 5,000 riels, affecting the wellbeing of herself and her family.
The factory closures are in part linked to the COVID-19 pandemic that had forced countless factories to close in China, disrupting raw material supply for Cambodian factories.
At the same time, the European Union announced the partial suspension of the ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) preferential trade scheme in mid-February, which is likely also resulting in a reduction of orders.
Ministry of Labor spokesman Heng Sour said that as of mid-March, 53 factories had suspended their operations because of supply chain issues, affecting at least 34,000 garment workers.
This would also affect the vendors in industrial parks who relied on garment workers as their customers, Heng Sour added.
But while vendors feel the impact, reasons for suspensions are more complex than just the lack of supplies due to the coronavirus.
Va Chenda, a human resources manager at Gladpeer Garments Factory, said the company had suspended operations from March 10 until at least May 5, affecting around 3,000 workers. But this was not because of supply chain issues, she said, but more to do with a lack of order.
"Of course, [the workers] are not happy. But this hasn't caused much trouble because they also understand the reason," she said, not providing additional details about falling orders.
Ivan, a manager at Akeentex Pte Lt. in Canadia Industrial Park, who only gave his first name, said his factory had not suspended work – but was facing a raw material shortage of around 20 to 30 percent.
As Chinese production returns to normalcy and with materials slowly trickling in, Ivan said the situation was improving, but that the shortages had affected many factories.
"I don't believe any factories are saying that they're not affected…so, the only path going forward is how the country can help the factories to survive," he said.
Back at the industrial park, Seak Chamroeun, who sells cosmetics and children’s clothing, is playing with her two-year-old daughter. There are no customers outside her store.
She used to be able to raise between 20,000 and 30,000 riels (between $5 and $7.5) a day. This had dropped to 10,000 riels ($2.5).
The reduction in income is especially hurting her because she needs $100 to treat her kidney stones and around $50 for monthly rent. Additionally, as the primary breadwinner, her family is affected too.
At the other end of the market, Sok Bopha, 36, has been a hairdresser for the last 15 years, providing an income that sustains her household. Before the viral pandemic, her salon was teeming with around 30 customers a day, earning her around $50. But, with less than 10 clients, she is having to make do with $10 a day.
"They said that there's no raw material so there's no work," she said.