The government and the US-based International Labour Organisation (ILO) have agreed to continue their cooperation and renew their MOU that will extend the “Better Factories Cambodia” (BFC) 2023-2027 programme.

BFC aims to promote economic growth in Cambodia through the garment, travel goods and footwear sectors that employs hundreds of thousands of workers.

The MOU signing ceremony on October 10 was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, Ministry of Commerce, ILO and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC).

Labour minister Ith Samheng recalled that the programme started in 2001 and originally began with a trade agreement between Cambodia and the US, which at the time linked international trade with better working conditions in the Kingdom in order to develop the manufacture of garment and footwear for export as an industry here.

Over the past 20 years, he said the programme has brought many successes to the Kingdom and contributed to many advances in the development of the industry, especially in the areas of garment, footwear and travel goods.

“This programme increased the value of exports as well as the number of factories and workers employed, which started out as a very small number. In 2000, there were about 100 to 200 factories with around 100,000 to 200,000 workers total, but now there are thousands of factories and the worker count has reached almost one million. The export value on their output is up to $17 billion,” he said.

He continued that the renewal of the MoU shows the government’s commitment to promoting the rights and freedoms of workers in the industry in accordance with the labour law and international standards that Cambodia has ratified. It conveys the message to consumers and businesses alike that Cambodia respects the rights and freedoms of workers, which is a popular stance with nearly everyone and earns Cambodia respect from other nations, he said.

“In 2022, for the same nine-month period compared to 2021, there was an increase of more than 24 per cent for these exports. This means that the momentum of the development of the garment, footwear and travel goods sector is very quickly returning to earlier levels because we have the support and cooperation under agreements like the BFC programme,” he said.

GMAC chairman Kong Sang said that signing this MoU proves the industry’s commitment to continuously improving working conditions for workers in Cambodia’s factories.

“For more than 20 years, we have embraced the ILO’s special programme, with the clear vision that continuous improvement of working conditions is one of the most important tasks and a means of measuring our success,” he said.

Sang stressed that GMAC is proud to be the first association in the world to accept the special programme, which allows the ILO to independently monitor its factories and report transparently on the results of their inspections each year.

“Our commitment to this programme remains strong, so we are excited for the next five years of this extended partnership,” he said.

Graeme Buckley, ILO country director for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, said the signing of the MoU with the Cambodian government to jointly promote decent work conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers would also have the effect of helping them develop new skills to make their employers ultimately more profitable.

“All of the parties to this agreement share the same goal and vision: To strengthen the garment, footwear and travel goods industry here and improve factory working conditions,” he said.

Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak said: “By implementing the policy of linking trade with labour standards, Cambodia has become a leading country in transforming itself into a model country for others to learn from and this has increased foreign business leaders’ confidence when ordering key products from Cambodia.”

According to labour minister Samheng, this is the eighth time that the MOU has been signed and extended since the first meeting over 20 years ago, noting that there have been some changes over time from the previous versions, mainly the duration of the MoU, which was pushed up to five years from three.