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Shoemaker gets foot in Svay Rieng

Shoemaker gets foot in Svay Rieng

Controversial shoe manufacturing giant Kingmaker Footwear will begin production next

month at a newly built factory inside the Bavet Special Economic Zone in Svay Rieng

province, government and company officials have told the Post.

Taiwan-based Kingmaker, one of the largest footwear manufacturers in the world, began

work on the $30-million factory in 2006.

According to Rebekah Maley, Kingmaker's vice-president of human resources, the company

is aiming to ship its first delivery in January 2007 and anticipates an output of

800,000 pairs in its first year of operation. Production will ramp up to three million

pairs and 5,000 employees in the next four years, and may eventually see as many

as 10,000 employees, Maley said.

"In response to the EU anti-dumping duties, we decided to expand into Cambodia,"

said Maley.

Thousands of jobs have been slashed in the shoe industry in China and Vietnam as

European Union (EU) anti-dumping measures have trod on the bottom lines of shoemakers.

The EU put safeguards in place this year to keep cheap Chinese and Vietnamese textiles

from flooding European markets to eliminate competition and disposal of surpluses.

"We see an opportunity here," Maley said. "We're quite well known

for our high-quality children's shoes. Now our goal is to be equally well known for

our sense of social responsibility."

According to Maley, Kingmaker intends eventually to fill 10 percent of its Cambodian

workforce with persons with disabilities, specifically women confined to wheel chairs.

"We've a significant opportunity to help disabled people and work towards positive

integration with society [in Cambodia]," Maley said. "We've been careful

to make disabled accessible."

Kingmaker has already sponsored a team in the Cambodian National Volleyball League

Disabled (CNVLD) called the Prey Veng Kingmaker Cobras, according to Christopher

Minko, CNVLD executive director.

According to Minko, Kingmaker will partner with the CNVLD to provide assistance in

establishing disability sports programs including volleyball matches and wheelchair

racing facilities.

Kingmaker was the subject of heated controversy in China in June 2005 when labor

watchdog China Labor Watch released a scathing report about the company's Zuhai factory

in Guangdong, China, citing among other rights violations, exposure to toxic chemicals,

no paid holidays or maternity leave and an 81-hour work week.

"A recent China Labor Watch investigation revealed appalling conditions at the

Kingmaker Zuhai factory - the company employs some 7,000 workers, most of whom are

internal migrants, who are treated little better than slaves," wrote Neil Kearney,

general-secretary of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Worker's Federation,

at the time.

" It was part correct and part exaggeration, but we got caught," said Maley

of the expose. "We asked ourselves if we had to make changes - and we did. It

was a long time ago and we've taken a lot of steps towards improvement since. We'd

like to think we've come a long way."

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