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Learning the ropes second-hand

Learning the ropes second-hand

More than 200 tonnes of clothes are sent from Neth Sokha’s warehouse to Thailand each month.
Photos by: Hector Bermejo

IN a small warehouse beside the road leading to the border crossing at Poipet, Neth Sokha barks out directions to a group of  men handling huge sacks of second-hand clothes.

Some of them are pulling sacks around in carts, others are resting on top of piles of jeans and T-shirts.

“They are second-hand clothes from America which they bring to Thailand,” Neth Sokha, 48, says.

From the few clothes that are lying loose, I can make out brand names such as Levi’s and Wranglers.

Neth Sokha has managed this warehouse for 10 years.

The clothes are first imported from places such as Hong Kong and South Korea to Phnom Penh, before being transported to his warehouse for export to Thailand.

“The traders don’t have an export licence, but I do – so all the second-hand vendors come here,” Neth Sokha says. “After they bring the clothes to the warehouse we go to the officials to get permission to export the goods.”

Although Neth Sokha claims business has been affected by the border conflict, he still exports 200 to 300 tonnes of second-hand clothes to Thailand every month.

Tin Kraham, 19, has worked at the warehouse for a year. Each day, he pulls his cart two kilometres from the warehouse to the Thai market.

Fully loaded, the cart weighs between 300 and 400 kilograms, and  he makes the trip two or three times a day, receiving 10,000 riel in return.

“It’s not so hard for me,” he says. “But it is very hot.”

Tin Kraham has just made his second trip of the day. “That’s enough for me,” he says.

Houng Ngan, 50, has been trading ‘second-hand clothes from Poipet to a market just across the border in Thailand since 1997.

“I saw someone doing this and it was a good business, so I contacted some Thai business counterparts and they needed clothes – so I started doing this,” she says.

Now Houng Ngan transports between four and five tonnes of clothes to Thailand each day.

As we talk, a man comes in pulling a cart laden with clothes. His own clothes are drenched with sweat. The clothes weigh in at 386kg.

“More than 10 people work for me,” says Houng Ngan, who pays her men between 10,000 and 20,000 riel a load, depending on the quantity of clothes they carry.

Contrary to what Neth Sokha has just informed us, Houng Ngan says  her business has been unaffected by the current troubles.

“Even when they have a big conflict we don’t notice anything, and we export regularly,” she says. “We never have a problem.”

Houng Ngan accepts, however, that any closure of the border would be catastrophic for business, although she doesn’t appear to be losing too much sleep worrying about it.

“If they ban us from crossing the border, then we will stop working,” she says. “But we have never heard anything about a ban.”

INTERPRETER: RANN REUY

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