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Garment sector weighs new reforms

Garment workers iron items of apparel at a factory in Phnom Penh last year. Yesterday stakeholders in Cambodia’s garment industry met for a textiles conference aimed at finding solutions to improve the Kingdom’s garment sector.
Garment workers iron items of apparel at a factory in Phnom Penh last year. Yesterday stakeholders in Cambodia’s garment industry met for a textiles conference aimed at finding solutions to improve the Kingdom’s garment sector. Vireak Mai

Garment sector weighs new reforms

Garment and footwear industry stakeholders yesterday converged in Phnom Penh to discuss how to develop the sector to be sustainable and competitive.

Run by the French Development Agency (AFD), the textiles conference at the capital’s Sunway Hotel heard that improving employees’ living and working standards, and focusing on training, would help the sector grow from a vulnerable, low-skilled industry dependent on its low production costs, to become robust and competitive.

“In every sector, human resources, skills and capacity building are very important,” Philippe Steinmetz, AFD country director for Cambodia, said.

“Here in the garment sector, it’s crucial, because more than 90 per cent of owners of factories are foreigners. The middle management and top management are coming from abroad, so here, Cambodia is only providing manpower, the workforce, and it’s mainly women without a lot of education.”

“It is very narrow, it doesn’t address the raw material or the [value added component] . . . so it can easily move from this country to another.”

Steinmetz said the one-day conference, the first of its type, aimed to bring together stakeholders from across the sector, which employs almost 700,000 workers and generated about $3 billion in exports in the first half of this year.

“We will put any data and contribution on our open source website and anyone can propose something,” he said.

Figures from the Labour and Commerce ministries, unions, the International Labour Organization, labour rights groups and employers’ representatives, among others, discussed their concerns and shared their ideas for what facilitator Ian Ramage called the “common goal” of sustaining the sector.

“I saw a lot of positives out of today, and I was surprised how much good feeling there was in the room and how little bloodshed,” Ramage, director of Angkor Research, said.

Workgroups discussed five topics including gender and the challenges faced by female garment workers; financing to “fill gaps” in services and support for workers; what research and studies were necessary; “the next step” and who was responsible; and building a label that could promote best practice in Cambodia’s industry abroad.

Ramage said the latter was widely embraced.

“Thanks to programs like Better Factories Cambodia and work done on labour standards, there’s an opportunity to create a brand where ‘made in Cambodia’ means ethical standards and production that could help Cambodia keep its competitive edge over places with cheaper labour, infrastructure and electricity costs,” he said.

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