The collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 brought global attention to the working conditions of those in garment factories—not just in Bangladesh but in many other countries in the region. To mark the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, CARE Cambodia reflects on the continued need to focus on the rights of garment workers.
As in Bangladesh, Cambodia also has a need for improved protections to ensure the safety of garment workers. In Cambodia – where approximately 700,000 people are reported to be employed in this industry – workers face many challenges which affect their health, safety and overall well-being. CARE is committed to engaging with garment factories in Cambodia to ensure workers, particularly women, have access to decent work.
A recent Human Rights Watch Report exploring labour rights in Cambodia’s garment factories highlighted issues such as forced overtime, short-term contracts and production pressures which inhibit workers’ ability to take bathroom breaks or sick leave. In an industry where approximately 90% of the workers are women – usually of reproductive age – these can have a particular affect on pregnant workers, preventing them from attending medical check-ups and even resulting in pregnant women not having their contracts renewed.
A workplace safety concern which particularly affects women in garment factories in Cambodia is the threat of sexual harassment. Recent research by CARE identified that women working in the garment sector perceive a regular and daily risk of sexual harassment. This can range from unwelcome touching to blatant abuses of power by superiors, such as one example of women being coerced into sex under the threat of being denied overtime if they refuse to ‘go out’ with their supervisor. An environment which tolerates harassment – to the extent that women who complain may be threatened with dismissal – means that many women have no choice but to endure situations which pose a threat to their health and their safety at work.
The research also shows that it is very common that garment factory workers are ‘looked down on’ because they are poor and have low skills, resulting in men thinking they ‘have the right’ to harass female garment workers. Within Cambodia, overall negative attitudes towards women working in the garment industry are possibly one of the underlying causes of their rights not being valued or respected. This is one of the reasons why CARE wants to ensure that in Cambodia – and around the world – people perceive employment in factories as dignified work.
To this end, CARE engages with workers, managers, industry groups and community members in Cambodia. To address unmet health needs among female workers, CARE is focusing on ensuring they know how to access quality reproductive health services and that links to these are available within factories. Building relationships with factory management which support them to improve internal policies is helping to create safer working environments for female workers. CARE is also engaging with government ministries and with industry bodies such as the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia to bring about industry-wide changes.
Garment factory workers whose right to decent working conditions is not respected continue to be at an unfair disadvantage and exposed to greater risks. As the world’s attention once again focuses on the impacts of large-scale disasters such as the Rana Plaza collapse, it is important to remember that there are many ways in which garment factories can be supported to improve conditions for their workers. With its work in Cambodia, CARE continues to strive for a future where women can work in any factory without risks to their health or fearing for their safety.
 Human Rights Watch, “Work Faster or Get Out” Labor Rights Abuses in Cambodia’s Garment Industry (2015). http://features.hrw.org/features/HRW_2015_reports/Cambodia_Garment_Workers/index.html
 CARE Cambodia, Safe Workplaces Safe Communities: Baseline for program indicators (2014).