Women are entering the global labour force in record numbers, according to a new report from the International Labour Office, but they still face higher unemployment rates, lower wages and make up 60 percent of the working poor. They are overwhelmingly represented, and some would say, exploited, in low-paying jobs in the garment industry – but that may change with a little help from Cambodia’s Government and some star power. ILO TV reports:
Paris? Milan? Try Phnom Penh. It’s a fashion show with a Cambodian twist. Not only because the models wear the latest Western styles, but also because they made them themselves.
They’re all garment workers and their fashion statement is about fair trade, decent working conditions. It’s a cause celebre that has caused some celebrities like Minnie Driver to ask the fashion labels to reconsider their buying practices…
…How every time they squeeze to get lower production costs, faster production, it’s nobody but the working women who suffer…
Cambodia’s economy is heavily dependent on the garment sector. Ten years ago, there were only two or three factories. Now there are almost 200, providing jobs for 230,000 mainly female workers.
According to a report from the International Labour Organization, or ILO, 1.1 billion women had work, more than ever before. But while they have access to more work, it doesn’t always translate into decent work. Labour-intensive jobs like those in the garment industry are primarily held by women. They are often the first to suffer when stiff competition puts pressure on companies to scrimp on pay and working conditions.
Cham Prasidh, Cambodian Minister of Commerce
We are going to compete with China, we are going to compete with India, we are going to compete with Pakistan…Who have already spent billions to prepare for that challenge. Whether we can keep the jobs for those 230,000 people who are now working in the garment industry, this is the big question…
To help find an answer to that question Cambodia turned to the ILO to act as a neutral third party to monitor and suggest ways to improve working conditions in nearly all of the country’s garment factories. The program has become a model for the region.
Lejo Sibbel, ILO Expert
We feel that the approach taken by the ILO and its partners in Cambodia can serve as a model. We feel it demonstrates that improving working conditions does not necessarily lead into increasing costs and therefore erodes your competitive position. We feel that improving working conditions the way it was done in Cambodia shows that it can lead to having a better competitive position.
For Cambodia, that advantage has meant increased export quotas to the West and better conditions for women to whom rights at work are more than just a passing fashion.