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Tales of abuse rife among beer promoters

Tales of abuse rife among beer promoters

In the language of the law, the unwanted fondling that many female beer promoters

encounter during their nightly shifts is sexual harassment, but the women who work

in beer gardens have another name for it: dai meuk, or "squid hands" in


Squid hands was just one of a dozen categories of harassment and abuse documented

in a new study on the "Situation of Beer Promotion Women in the Workplace,"

due to be released next week by CARE Cambodia.

The survey of 640 women who promoted beer found widespread abuses: 83 percent of

women had experienced derogatory behavior; 80 percent faced unwanted sexual touching;

54 percent were physically abused; and 60 percent had been threatened, sometimes

at gun point.

The report said 38 percent of beer promoters (BPs) have had to perform a coerced

sexual act in the workplace.

"At the present there are few means to ensure the safety and protection of these

women in the workplace," wrote Sharon Wilkinson, country director of CARE Cambodia.

"This abuse is so widespread it is almost regarded by some of the women as an

occupational hazard."

The report said that beer promotion is a growing industry, with approximately 4,000

BPs in Phnom Penh and the provinces. As more brands enter the market and try to compete

for drinkers' loyalty, more women are being employed to serve the predominantly male


The marital status of beer promotion women is evenly distributed with 22 percent

of those surveyed saying they were married, 21 percent live with a man, 23 percent

are single and 34 percent were widowed, divorced or separated.

One quarter of beer promoters surveyed were paid a monthly salary - usually around

$20, with a $3 pay cut for every day of work missed - plus bonuses while 70 percent

work on a commission-only basis.

Almost 91 percent of BPs said they drank beer while working.

Women who work for commissions are at a higher risk of harassment as they tend to

endure customers who touch them inappropriately or verbally abuse them, in order

to sell as many beers as possible and raise their income, said Chi Socheath, program

coordinator reproductive health of CARE.

"I think that the harassment not only causes health problems and physical injuries

but is also an abuse of human rights," Socheath said.

Socheath said that the report aims to increase the understanding of beer-promotion

women, create a legal definition of sexual harassment, and support the health and

safety standards for BPs.

CARE Cambodia has called on the Ministry of Women's Affairs, Ministry of Labor, Ministry

of Health, Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Interior to work together to tackle

the issues of harassment in beer gardens.

Among CARE's recommendations:

* campaign for a zero-tolerance policy against abuse and harassment of women in the

workplace through a campaign aimed at outlet owners and customers

* involve beer promotion women in broader national discussions on eliminating violence

against women

* extend the concept of ethical trading from the garment sector into the beer brewing

and distribution industry

* tackle the issue of illegal import and export of beer which threatens the legal


* clarify women's employment status and rights under the Labor Law

* monitor and act against outlets, breweries or distribution companies which do not

respect the human rights of staff and do not follow the labor law

* sensitize police officers about the need to respond to violence against women

* send a strong message via senior police chiefs that violence against women which

occurs in entertainment venues needs to be tackled and offenders prosecuted

Prum Sokha, secretary of state of the Ministry of Interior, said that while he hadn't

received CARE's report, he supported the initiative to curb harassment against BPs

and ensure their safety.

"Our existing law can ensure the safety of the women, but law enforcement must

be strengthened, and we need more participation of the victims and owners of businesses,"

Sokha said.

"It is not only the beer promotion women, but all the women who are protect

by law," he said.

Sokha said it may be necessary for beer promoters to unionize to help protect themselves

and said the authorities would support legal action against the abusers.

Nhep Bunchin, Minister of Labor and Vocational Training, said that he will re-examine

the labor law and review working conditions within the beer industry.

"We will look into the issues of waitress and beer promotion women to ensure

that their rights must be protect by labor law," Bunchin said.


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