FEMALE beer promotion workers in Siem Reap town earned salaries that covered only half of their living expenses last year, a fact that led some 57 percent to engage in sex work, according to a report released last week by a Siem Reap-based NGO.
The report, co-authored by Ian Lubek, a psychology professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, is an updated version of an older report, and draws from interviews with 900 women.
International and domestic beer companies operating in Cambodia offered average monthly incomes of about US$81, but workers, often referred to around the country as “beer girls”, said they needed between US$160 and $209 to cover monthly expenses and support their families, according to the report.
Those women who did engage in sex work to supplement their salaries said they had accepted a standard price of US$25 per session, and participated in 2.5 sessions per month, giving them an additional monthly income of $62.50, the report said.
“Most of the problem is that these women are underpaid. They need a living wage,” Lubek said Monday. “The average beer seller has about 3.5 dependants for whom they are responsible.”
The salaries on offer, he added, place “additional pressure on each woman to bring in extra income”.
“About half of these women feel obliged to sell sex,” he said.
The report, produced for the NGO Siem Reap Citizens for Health, Educational and Social Issues, is titled: “Health, safety and security for Cambodian women beer sellers were substandard in 2009: Urgent actions are still required by all major brewers (AB/INBEV, Carlsberg, HEINEKEN/Asia Pacific Breweries, SAB/Miller, Guinness, San Miguel, Bavaria, Asahi, etc.)”.
Lack of education
Women interviewed for the report said they had limited access to HIV/AIDS treatment and sex-education programmes, and the report recommends that basic health and sex education be provided to beer sellers on their first day of work.
Lubek said that 37 percent of beer sellers do not receive health training for more than a year after they begin work, and that some never do. He added that most reported consuming an average of 1.5 litres of beer per night.
“Unless they know about the dangers of alcohol and unsafe sex, in a country with a high rate of HIV infection, this puts them at greater risk,” he said.
In 2006, Heineken International, Carlsberg A/S, Guinness and Co, Asia Pacific Breweries, Cambodia Brewery Ltd and Cambrew Ltd formed the organisation Beer Selling Industry Cambodia (BSIC), “with the objective of improving the health, safety and working conditions of beer promoters by setting industry standards,” according to its website.
A spokesman for the Heineken-affiliated Cambodia Brewery Ltd, 80 percent of which is owned by Asia Pacific Breweries, declined to comment on Monday. Representatives of Cambrew Ltd, of which Carlsberg has a majority stake, could not be reached for comment.