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Local weaving firms cope with foreign-driven change

Local weaving firms cope with foreign-driven change

GHOST FACTORY

This weaving factory was formerly leased by a foreign firm which left after the 1997 coup, like so many others leaving a cumulative debt to Cambodian creditors of around $70,000.

PING Meng Yi's mattress factory is the last stronghold of

a once thriving local industry now decimated by flaky

foreign investment and competition from low-quality,

foreign-made goods.

Based in Prek Tamark, Kandal, the factory was set up in

1980 to weave mattresses from locally-grown reeds.

Since that time more factories have sprung up, many owned

by foreign investors mainly Korean and all much larger

and more sophisticated.

This changed the shape of the weaving business.

What was once a cottage industry became instead centered

round large factories.

While this gave locals a regular income it did not

provide them with the job security they once believed it

would.

Following last year's coup the foreign investors fled the

area leaving debts of more than $70,000.

But of greater concern was the changes they had wrought

in a local industry.

The initiative was taken away from local people, many of

whom now hang round their old work places hoping the

owners will one day return.

Peng Meng Yi, on the other hand, is forging ahead as best

she can, but she admits it is difficult.

She said that plastic mattresses from Thailand, the

Korean economic crisis (Korea had been a major importer),

and competition from Vietnam which imports local reeds

and makes mattresses there had all contributed to the

decline in business.

She added that last year's coup had also interrupted the

flow of stock to neighboring countries, which in turn

found alternative suppliers.

 

UNCERTAIN FUTURE

One of Ping Meng Yi's weavers contemplates a dying industry

Yi's husband, Bun Sothea, said that it was not just

external problems that had plagued the industry. Local

businesses had not been innovative enough. He said that

compared to Cambodians, the Vietnamese seemed more

imaginative.

 

They did not just weave mattresses, he said, but used the

same weaving techniques to make curtains, bags,

table-cloths, pillows and car seat covers.

"The Vietnamese people are very clever, and they are

very proficient at business.

"They bought low-quality reeds from Cambodia and

made items as good as the Cambodians could make from the

best quality reed."

He would like to see Cambodians follow the Vietnamese

example and develop new products in an effort to boost

the industry. As an example, he suggested locals should

begin making the traditional mattress that Koreans use

for their wedding ceremonies.

Meanwhile the other worry for local producers is the

prevalence of cheap, plastic mattresses from Thailand.

However, Cambodian manufacturers point out that they are

very uncomfortable and hot to sleep on because they don't

allow air to circulate.

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