The Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) has released a report examining the wages, production targets and occupational health and safety of workers in Cambodia’s garment and footwear sector. Research was conducted through consultative meetings with 41 workers at ten factories along with payslips from seven factories and individualised responses from 16 workers.
It is particularly relevant that this report was released on International Human Rights Day. CENTRAL believes that receiving a living wage is a right belonging to all working people. This report shows that Cambodian garment and footwear workers continue to receive below a living wage – earning on average 95 cents per hour.
In order to supplement these poverty wages, workers are effectively forced to work overtime, both for the extra pay and in order to meet ever-increasing production targets to receive extra bonuses. This report shows the way in which increases to the minimum wage have been reflected in increases to production targets in factories. All workers who participated in this research reported that increases to the minimum wage over recent years had affected their production targets, either in the actual number of the target or in changes to disciplinary actions if targets were not reached.
Many workers reported that, over the years, production targets have gone up, whilst the numbers of workers per line have often gone down. Others face the threat of termination on the basis of a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ system for failure to meet production targets or for making minor mistakes in the production process. Verbal abuse and threats of contract termination or non-renewal often accompanied pressures regarding production targets. The increase in production targets also directly impacts piece rate workers, many of whom have seen no practical wage increase, and only an increase in their minimum expected workloads. Without changes to the calculated piece rate, piece rate workers simply saw their production targets rise in tandem with the minimum wage.
Overall, the proliferation of increasing production targets has given rise to a culture of violence and intimidation that forces garment and footwear workers to work unpaid through lunch breaks and forego water and going to the bathroom in order to meet production targets. These production targets are fuelled, at least in part, by the purchasing practices of brands placing shorter lead times on factories in order to meet the demands of fast fashion.
In addition, workers who participated in this research reported widespread health and safety issues inside factories. Hot working temperatures in garment and footwear factories remains a serious concern as it is a major contributing factor to instances of mass fainting which continue to increasingly plague the industry. Workers also reported poor lighting and extremely loud sounds from machinery inside the factory – both of which are a risk to workers’ health. Concerns regarding the cleanliness of bathrooms, drinking water and eating spaces were also raised.
Following on from this report, CENTRAL is calling on purchasing brands to work to ensure the payment of a guaranteed living wage to Cambodian garment and footwear workers, paid either by the brands themselves through an enforceable brand agreement or through an alteration to purchasing practices that enables factories to pay a living wage.