Phnom Penh is currently home to 9,314 factories and other manufacturing enterprises that employ 660,000 workers, including 340,000 hired at 727 “garment” plants who churn out merchandise exported to the EU, the US, Canada, Japan and other markets, according to the labour minister on June 14.

Roughly $2 billion is paid out in wages each year to the men and women employed in the capital’s factories and manufacturing enterprises, about $1.1 billion of which goes to workers at garment factories – this works out to approximately $250 and $270 per month for each individual in the former and latter groups, respectively.

Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng revealed these figures while addressing workers in the capital’s western district of Por Sen Chey.

Nationwide, the number of garment factories has grown from just 64 in 1997 – employing 80,000 workers – to 1,326 in 2023, employing 840,000 workers, he disclosed, adding that the industry’s exports have ballooned from $227 million in 1997 to about $13 billion last year.

For reference, Customs (GDCE) figures show that Cambodia exported $12.802 billion worth of items under chapters 42 and 61-64 of the Harmonised System (HS) of Tariff Nomenclature last year, registering a 14.46 per cent rise from $11.185 billion in 2021 and 87.78 per cent jump from $6.818 billion in 2015.

The HS Chapters are short-titled: “articles of leather, animal gut, harness, travel goods” (Ch42), “articles of apparel, knit or crocheted” (Ch61), “articles of apparel, not knit or crocheted” (Ch62), “other made textile articles, sets, worn clothing” (Ch63) and “footwear, gaiters and the like” (Ch64).

According to the labour minister, there are currently 17,256 formal economic units registered with his ministry, which employ 1.5 million workers.

“The labour market in Cambodia is strong, maintaining a high employment rate of 99.3 per cent of the country’s 10.8 million workforce,” he said.

The minister noted that, prior to Covid-19, the Cambodian economy had grown on average by seven per cent for more than two decades.

The pandemic and other world events notwithstanding, “all facets of society in Cambodia continue to experience peace, stability and development, and the nation’s economy is proudly expanding”, he added.

Textile Apparel Footwear and Travel Goods Association in Cambodia (TAFTAC) deputy secretary-general Kaing Monika affirmed that there are 335 factories in Phnom Penh and 379 elsewhere in the Kingdom among TAFTAC’s ranks, which respectively employ 266,101 and 351,612 workers.

Of these, 138 and 103 plants are located in Kandal and Kampong Speu provinces and employ 117,035 and 87,426 workers, he shared. This suggests that there are 138 TAFTAC member factories in the Kingdom’s 22 other provinces, which employ 147,151 workers.

“Due to more adequate infrastructure and proximity to the government ministries, which issue the necessary permits and licences, historically more industries have been built closer to the city [Phnom Penh].

“As the infrastructure in the provinces improves and the country’s administration becomes more decentralised, more and more new factories can be built outside of the city, in different provinces,” Monika said.