Controversial shoe manufacturing giant Kingmaker Footwear will begin production next
month at a newly built factory inside the Bavet Special Economic Zone in Svay Rieng
province, government and company officials have told the Post.
Taiwan-based Kingmaker, one of the largest footwear manufacturers in the world, began
work on the $30-million factory in 2006.
According to Rebekah Maley, Kingmaker's vice-president of human resources, the company
is aiming to ship its first delivery in January 2007 and anticipates an output of
800,000 pairs in its first year of operation. Production will ramp up to three million
pairs and 5,000 employees in the next four years, and may eventually see as many
as 10,000 employees, Maley said.
"In response to the EU anti-dumping duties, we decided to expand into Cambodia,"
Thousands of jobs have been slashed in the shoe industry in China and Vietnam as
European Union (EU) anti-dumping measures have trod on the bottom lines of shoemakers.
The EU put safeguards in place this year to keep cheap Chinese and Vietnamese textiles
from flooding European markets to eliminate competition and disposal of surpluses.
"We see an opportunity here," Maley said. "We're quite well known
for our high-quality children's shoes. Now our goal is to be equally well known for
our sense of social responsibility."
According to Maley, Kingmaker intends eventually to fill 10 percent of its Cambodian
workforce with persons with disabilities, specifically women confined to wheel chairs.
"We've a significant opportunity to help disabled people and work towards positive
integration with society [in Cambodia]," Maley said. "We've been careful
to make disabled accessible."
Kingmaker has already sponsored a team in the Cambodian National Volleyball League
Disabled (CNVLD) called the Prey Veng Kingmaker Cobras, according to Christopher
Minko, CNVLD executive director.
According to Minko, Kingmaker will partner with the CNVLD to provide assistance in
establishing disability sports programs including volleyball matches and wheelchair
Kingmaker was the subject of heated controversy in China in June 2005 when labor
watchdog China Labor Watch released a scathing report about the company's Zuhai factory
in Guangdong, China, citing among other rights violations, exposure to toxic chemicals,
no paid holidays or maternity leave and an 81-hour work week.
"A recent China Labor Watch investigation revealed appalling conditions at the
Kingmaker Zuhai factory - the company employs some 7,000 workers, most of whom are
internal migrants, who are treated little better than slaves," wrote Neil Kearney,
general-secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Worker's Federation,
at the time.
" It was part correct and part exaggeration, but we got caught," said Maley
of the expose. "We asked ourselves if we had to make changes - and we did. It
was a long time ago and we've taken a lot of steps towards improvement since. We'd
like to think we've come a long way."