Ken Loo: industry has social accountability.
The main challenge for Cambodia's important garment manufacturing and export industry
is to improve productivity, in order to compete with other major players such as
China, India and Bangladesh, says Ken Loo, the new secretary-general of the Cambodian
Garment Manufacturers Association (GMAC).
"Like the garment industry in most less-developed countries, we are at a crossroads
from January 1, 2005, when the existing market quota system as we know it will be
phased out. With the end of preferential treatment [in the US market] Cambodia will
have to fight harder for market share."
He said that while Cambodia lagged behind in terms of production costs, "the
main advantage that we have is the area of social accountability. Cambodia's co-operation
with the International Labor Organisation has allowed us to carve a niche given our
unique Bilateral Textile Agreement with the US, linking labor conditions to trade.
"An emergence of this trend is developing among global buyers that are becoming
more conscious of their reputation following pressure from [activist] social consumer
groups. We hope that this trend will continue and provide an even greater competitive
advantage to Cambodia."
Loo (full name Ken Loo Chee Chien), who took over from Ray Chew last week, is a Singapore
citizen and has been in Phnom Penh for the past two years, during which time he has
lectured to MBA students and undergraduates.
He has a PhD in finance and his background is in the field of banking and finance.
He worked as a foreign exchange trader before coming Cambodia and his last employer
was Citibank. He said his background meant the garment industry "will be a whole
new experience for me. I hope to bring a new perspective of things to the industry
and will try to think out of the box.
"These are trying times for the garment industry in Cambodia. The end of the
Multi-Fibre Agreement means we will have to compete with the rest of the world on
an equal footing. I also hope that I can contribute to one of the main growth engines
of the Cambodia economy."
He said his primary role as secretary-general is to act as a focal point and to provide
an avenue for tripartite discussions between GMAC members, the unions and the Government.
"It is my duty to ensure that the voice of members is heard whenever there are
ongoing discussions affecting the garment industry and to make sure that their interests
are protected. I will also be helping members to solve any problems that they might
meet in their operations."
Cambodia is the most recent of newcomers to the international garment trade. It has
been one of the fastest growing garment exporters, from sales of $4 million in 1994
to $1.5 billion (estimated) in 2003. It ranks among the top 10 suppliers of garments
into the US markets.
It's the largest industry in Cambodia, currently employing more than 230,000 workers
directly; and an estimated 1 million people in Cambodia are dependent on it indirectly.
It contributes a staggering 36 percent to Cambodia's gross domestic product.
Membership of GMAC is voluntary and it currently has 201 members.