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A woman folds material in a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district
A woman folds material in a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district in September. Pha Lina

Cambodia's garment exports rise

The value of Cambodia’s garment and footwear exports topped $5.07 billion in the first 11 months of 2013, an increase of 22 per cent from the same time last year, according to the latest Ministry of Commerce statistics.

Cambodia’s two biggest importers of textile garments and footwear, the US and Europe, both registered notable year-on-year increases.

US exports rose nine per cent to a total of $1.96 billion, while European exports rose 33 per cent to a total of $1.81 billion as of November.

Export value among the remaining countries, including South Korea and Japan, rose 31 per cent in the first 11 months of this year compared to 2012.

The surprising jump in value comes despite months of garment worker strikes, manufacturers reducing or ceasing productions entirely, and the Kingdom’s ongoing political impasse over the disputed poll on July 28.

Protests at the Phnom Penh factory SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) over wages, among other issues, began on August 12, ended on December 4, and reportedly cost the company $15 million after international brands H&M and Gap reduced their orders and jeans manufacturer Levi’s cut ties altogether with the factory. One bystander was killed in a violent day of demonstrations on November 12.

Earlier this week, thousands of garment factory workers from around the country walked off the job after the Ministry of Labour decided to raise minimum wages by $15 in 2014, rather than the $80 increase they demanded.

Not counting December, GMAC has recorded 131 strikes in 2013 alone, the most since it began collecting data 10 years ago.

But senior officer at GMAC Cheat Khemara said the positive figures were the result of deals already struck in 2012, and were not reflective of the troubles seen in the garment sector during 2013.

“As the quota comes to an end, we [GMAC] are discussing and considering whether to accept new orders from buyers,” he said. “We are concerned that if issues are not solved very soon, we might tell buyers to switch orders to other countries. We may accept some orders, but it will only be for short-term contracts.”

“We cannot afford to pay when we cannot produce according to deadline," he added.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of the Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union and head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, dismissed Khemara's comments and said that "surely they will not switch their orders".

“We will keep going to strike until there is a solution. We cannot live on $95 per month,” he said, referring to the new wage the government set on Tuesday.

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