Construction is due to start shortly on a socially-responsible sunglass case and cleaning cloth factory in Siem Reap. The Dutch-run factory will initially hire 150 employees, and by 2014 will have 200 employees.
Pactics, the company building the factory, already operates a smaller facility in Siem Reap, which produces 20,000 microfiber sunglass cases daily and 18,000 sunglass cloths.
The new factory will initially focus on producing cloths for sunglasses.
Pactics produces 40 per cent of cases and cloths for the largest sunglass company in the world, Luxottica, which has brands including Ray-Ban, Oakley and Persol.
Pactics has been operating in Guangzhou, China since 2007, where it employs 180 workers. But Piet Holten, president of Pactics, said rising labour costs in China forced him to look to other countries to start up production, ultimately deciding on Siem Reap.
He said, “I had looked around in Phnom Penh and I didn’t really like what I was seeing there with the garment factories. There were lots of problems with them. They bring girls from the provinces to Phnom Penh to work. Wages are very low, and there is always something going on. I didn’t want to be part of that turmoil. The living conditions are bad, most of the workers don’t have a social life, and they can’t afford to feed themselves very well. It’s not a pretty life.”
Keen to avoid a situation where workers travel a long way and work long hours, Piet decided to “bring the factory to the workers rather than the workers to the factory.”
So Pactics founded a small production line in Siem Reap in 2010, employing 15 people. Within two years the company employed 60 people, and had people lining up for jobs.
Piet Holten prides himself on the corporate responsibility of the company.
“We are not an NGO, and I have a responsibility to turn a profit. But I think employees should be happy. They need a social life. If employees are unhappy then products lose their quality and you cannot guarantee delivery. It’s very hard to maintain these when you have a high employee turn-around.
“All our workers are from Siem Reap. The average distance they live from the factory is about 8 kilometres. Some are even able to walk to work.”
Pactics employees work eight hours a day for six days a week, and are paid above local industry standards.
Including target bonuses, which most employees achieve, sewers earn $93.50 a month plus seniority bonuses. Finishers earn $82.50 a month plus seniority bonuses.
Piet said the new factory will improve further on the company’s social responsibility. The 1.2 hectare site, 2.5 kilometres out of town, will include a day care centre with play areas, a full kitchen for employees, a breast-feeding room and outdoor areas.
The buildings are north facing and designed to be naturally ventilated to keep them cool and airy. The site was designed by architect Stuart Cochlin, who focusses on greener sustainable developments.
Stuart was briefed to ensure that as many recommendations as possible in the Better Factories Cambodia report by the International Labour Organisation were incorporated into the design.
The project includes a bank of solar panels which Piet hopes will allow the factory to operate off the grid.
Piet said although compassion comes into it, the decision to be socially responsible is an economic one as well.
He said staff turnaround is a lot lower when workers are happy. This means quality standards are increased, the company can ensure strict delivery periods, and gains a competitive advantage.
He said operating as a socially responsible supplier means big brands can rest assured knowing their products aren’t made by exploited workers, and can avoid public relations disasters, like the recent spate of faint-in protests in H&M outlets.