Industry says thieving workers are threatening factories
Clothing vendors in Russian Market. Garment makers say thousands of stolen goods are sold in markets.
CAMBODIA'S largest garment industry association has filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipality over what it says is rampant theft from local factories.
Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said the April 27 complaint was filed in response to reported thefts in many of the country's more than 200 garment factories.
Though such complaints have been reported for years, he said they had become so widespread as to threaten the industry. "We've always received complaints from factory owners about this problem - it's a serious issue because buyers are afraid to order from factories," he said. "Many of the stolen orders have been partially sold in local markets or in neighbouring countries."
Phnom Penh Deputy Police Chief Hy Prou said he had received the complaint, though he said he did not know what measures could be implemented to address it.
The manager of a major garment factory in Phnom Penh who requested anonymity said he agreed with Van Sou Ieng that theft had recently become more common.
"Most of the factories will say that this is getting worse," he said. "We are losing a few thousand pieces of clothing per month."
He said employees use a variety of tactics to smuggle garments, including hiding items under their clothes and placing them in rubbish bins.
"An even more alarming trend is that we are seeing garments stolen from transport containers. We complained to the police, and they are setting up a task force," he said.
Van Sou Ieng said garment theft had cut already-thin profit margins and caused some companies to go bankrupt.
"We should stop such actions in order to build buyer confidence," he said.
But Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Cambodia, took issue with claims that theft was the main problem facing the industry.
"I don't agree that our workers are stealing large amounts of clothing.... They steal, but only a few items," he said. "The amount of theft wouldn't cause a factory to go bankrupt."
He added that recent factory closures were due to management problems and the ailing economy.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD