On the anniversary of the SL Garment Factory protests, a victim’s family share their story

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Upon arriving at a street food stall in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, Ms. Vong Vorleak, a 24-year old young woman was finishing her noodles on a small plastic chair. She had just completed a busy morning of selling rice to customers.

A year ago today Vorleak’s mother, 49 year-old Mrs. Eng Sokhom, was selling rice in the very same stall. As she attempted to conduct business as usual, workers from the SL garment factory were protesting for increased wages in front of her stall. Violence erupted and security forces responded to the protestors with excessive force. They indiscriminately fired water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and finally, live rounds of ammunition into the crowds. As Mrs. Sokhom attempted to cover her goods, she was shot in the chest and killed. She was an innocent bystander who left behind a son, a daughter and a husband, yet justice has not been delivered for her death.

When Vorleak finished eating she moved her small plastic stool into the back section of the stall, and began quietly relaying her story.

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Stitching & Suffering in Cambodia’s Garment Industry

In Cambodia’s garment factories, workers – 90% of whom are women – faint en masse alarmingly regularly, a phenomenon that highlights harsh working conditions. Yet despite advocacy efforts from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), little improvement has taken place. So what exactly are the working conditions like and what can be done to improve the situation?

The garment industry is central to Cambodia’s economy, providing jobs to approximately 475,000 people. Working in a garment factory is often a sought-after position for many women who hope to earn a better wage than what they can expect for in rural areas.

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Prior to January 2014, the monthly minimum salary for garment factory workers was $80 USD, which hardly represented one fifth of what the Asia Floor Wage calculates to be a living wage in Cambodia. After months of failed negotiations with factory owners, in December 2013, Cambodian unions called for national strikes demanding a wage increase to $160 USD per month.

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