Hello and welcome back to Anakut!
We’re now more than halfway through the season here with Episode 5. It’s been quite the ride so far, but never fear – we still have plenty of Anakut coming right up!
This week, Thina and I wanted to learn more about the garment industry, a major pillar of the Cambodian economy that employs more than 800,000 workers and produces 70% of the country’s exports. To put a number to that, in 2019, garment and footwear workers in the Kingdom produced almost $8 billion in goods to be sent abroad, mainly to the US and Europe.
Even with that kind of weight, the industry still took a heavy loss last year in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic. And while workers of all kinds have struggled to make ends meet since the pandemic landed squarely on the world, garment workers in Cambodia often have added pressure to provide for their families with what has been for decades a relatively stable source of employment.
So now, as the world shakily regains its balance amidst continued outbreaks of Covid-19, we wanted to check in on the garment sector to see where it’s standing and where it might go. To help us do that, we invited guests Ken Loo, head of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia industry group, and Dennis Arnold, a longtime researcher of the industry and an associate professor at the University of Amsterdam.
While workers of all kinds have struggled to make ends meet since the pandemic landed squarely on the world, garment workers in Cambodia often have added pressure to provide for their families
The ensuing conversation goes deep, ranging from the effects of the pandemic, to the evolving view of garment workers in Cambodian society, and on to the increasing push to automate the industry and move it closer to foreign consumer bases. Garment workers are, in some respects, among the most formalised employees in Cambodia. Before the pandemic, their state-mandated minimum wage had been rising year-over-year, and many workers received cash assistance during the pandemic as their factories struggled to stay open.
But that hasn’t stopped them from being hit with the full force of the economic recession, which for many only compounded long-running financial hardships that come with being a breadwinner. Will the industry be able to support its workers in the months and years ahead? Hit that Play button to hear all about it.