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
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
* 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,"
"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.