Photo by: Pha Lina
A beer seller fills a jug with ABC Extra Stout at a beer garden in Phnom Penh last year.
A SOON-to-be-released report on the working conditions faced by the country’s estimated 4,000 beer-promotion women, or beer girls, paints a disturbing picture of industry-tolerated exploitation that forces women to chose between indulging disrespectful and sometimes dangerous customers and supporting themselves and their impoverished, mostly rural, families.
A draft of the report, produced by Care Cambodia and the Solidarity Association of Beer Promoters in Cambodia, comprises first-person accounts and data based on interviews with 245 women over the first six months of this year. The report shows that attempted rape, threats, physical abuse and verbal harassment are not only widespread but tolerated by the owners of establishments. The women are paid by the company that brews the particular brand they are selling.
The report confirms other recent research that suggests highly publicised steps taken to improve working conditions for beer sellers since 2006 have fallen far short of the claims brewers have trumpeted.
Association president Seang Seng said she and her colleagues decided to produce the booklet because most people reacted with disbelief to descriptions of the conditions they worked under.
“He pulled a gun and pointed it at my head and asked me, ‘you go or not?’” one of the women recounts in the booklet. Another describes having to deal with a group of men who refused to pay unless they received sex. The establishment’s owner sought a compromise. Such negotiations usually favour the customers, the woman explained.
In the first half of this year, 121 of the 245 beer promotion girls surveyed reported experiencing derogatory behaviour from customers, such as obscene gestures and verbal abuse. Eighty-seven reported inappropriate touching, such as having their bottom’s slapped or their breasts grabbed.
Fourteen experienced physical violence, including being slapped, burnt with a cigarette or hit with a bottle. Thirty-four were either verbally or physically threatened, often to leave with or have sex with a customer or group.
During interviews with beer sellers conducted by The Post yesterday, most said customers regarded them as sex workers.
Chhum Sereyleak, 21, said that during the three years she has been selling beer, customers often became insulting when she refused to have sex with them. Often the rejected suitors would pinch her before leaving, saying “Who do you think you are? You’re just a beer girl,” she explained.
Seang Seng said that some brewers, especially Tiger and Heineken, treat their promoters better than others do.
Labour Ministry Secretary of State Prak Chantha said owners of nightclubs and beer gardens should treat their beer sellers like their own children. They should prevent customers from “raping, threatening, abusing and harassing them”, he said.
All men do not look down on women who sell beer, he said, adding that the job is as socially acceptable as any other.