Despite a year of record labour strikes, a larger manufacturing presence has helped Cambodia’s garment sector continue its upward trend in 2013.
According to Ministry of Commerce figures published by China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, exports were valued at $5.5 billion last year, a 20 per cent hike from $4.6 billion in 2012.
Ken Ratha, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, told Xinhua that growth could be attributed to more orders and greater investment.
But year-on-year figures alone do not provide the entire picture, said Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC). Loo pointed out that growth should be greater than 20 per cent, as GMAC saw a 30 per cent membership increase in 2013.
“If it is grown proportionally, then at least that is acceptable,” Loo said.
The rise occurred amid daunting strike action throughout 2013, capped off by a boycott over minimum wages towards the end of the year and into January that cost factories millions of dollars.
Year-end strike data has yet to be completed, but as of November of last year, the count of 131 strikes had already surpassed the previous 2012 total of 121, according to GMAC, which has been keeping track since 2003. This equates to more than 825,000 lost shifts, GMAC calculates.
Strikes took an ugly turn on January 3, when wage-related protests resulted in the shooting deaths of at least four workers in Phnom Penh.