Cambodia is proving to be the next tough test case for multinationals’ supply chain weaknesses

Without a doubt, the garment industry is the peg on which Cambodia’s economy hangs: 350,000 young workers are employed in making the shirts and shoes, hoodies and underwear, skirts and jeans found in stores such as Marks & Spencer, Primark, Gap, Zara, Levi’s, H&M, Adidas and Puma.

The big investment push into Cambodia by these multinational players happened in the 1990s, and provided desperately needed income and jobs to a primarily low-educated and female workforce that migrated from rural towns to the capital city of Phnom Penh.

Now the garment industry is the country’s largest exporter (accounting for 80% of exports), worth US$5.5bn annually, with more than 550 factories owned mainly by Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, Hong Kong and Singaporean companies.

That makes the issue of Cambodian workers’ rights and wages a supply chain issue, rather than a direct workforce issue, for most of the multinational mega fashion and footwear companies. While improving supply chains is something most of the big corporations are tackling via studies, timelines and goals, the on-the-ground situation in Cambodia has increased the risks, both reputational and disruptive, for an industry that thrives on cheap labour.

In 2013 in Cambodia there were 381 industrial strikes recorded. The most violent strike...

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Cambodia  Cambodian workers  cheap clothing  labour practices  strikes  sustainable clothes 

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