Owners of small-to-medium-sized garment factories are complaining the quota allocation
system for the US market is being unfairly applied and favors the big operators.
The issue has come to light in the wake of the United States' refusal to open up
its markets more fully to garments made in Cambodia. The reason given for not granting
a greater quota to Cambodia was the failure of factories to clean up their work practices
and the way they treat their staff. Smaller operators now complain that the quota
that is available has been concentrated in the hands of a few big companies.
One owner of a small factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, which employs about
150 workers complained to the Post of the "non-transparency" in the government's
procedure for allocating quota.
The owner said he and his colleagues found the system suspect.
"The whole quota allocation method is very vague," he said.
"For smaller sub-contractors like me it has been tough. The Ministry of Commerce
gives us too short notice, two to three weeks, before it holds quota auctions. I
am already in the middle of completing old orders. I never have enough time to prepare
[for the auctions]."
"I think the system unfairly favors the big companies," he adds.
Roger Tan, Secretary General of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia
(GMAC), said he sympathized with the smaller operators agreeing that the government's
system of quota tender has, within bounds, dispersed industry operators into dominions
of "haves and have nots".
"But I think it [the system] is as good as you can get it," he says, adding
that "it's a bit hard on smaller factories because money talks...quotas go to
companies with past performances. I think that's fair."
Meanwhile there have been rumors that cliques within the Ministry of Commerce (MoC)
have been wrongfully dealing in quota with foreign companies.
The owner said rumors were rife in the industry that corrupt officials were selling
off quota in under-the-table deals.
"You hear stories about them [MoC] selling garment quotas to the Taiwanese or
Chinese or whatever ... it deprives Cambodian factory owners and workers of [much
needed] work and profits."
While acknowledging the fact that large scale customs fraud has had a negative real
impact on the industry, Tan hopes that Cambodia's imminent adoption of America's
"ELVIS" computerized customs technology will shut the doors on would-be
conspirators. "[Computerization] of our customs operations should clean up that
mess," he says.
As for labor conditions, Tan welcomes the new found esprit de corps of the union
"We're having some success with the unions in ending sudden, unannounced strikes,"
he says, but cautions that the industry's new covenant is still in its infancy. "It
is too early to tell if there has been an improvement...we [GMAC] hope the ILO program
will be introduced soon."