Coronavirus brings trouble to Cambodia’s garment industry

Hundreds of thousands of textile workers in Cambodia are staring at an uncertain future as the COVID-19 pandemic knocks off demand for clothes across the world. Ate Hoekstra reports from Phnom Penh.

Hundreds of garment factories in Cambodia and elsewhere in Asia are facing serious financial problems because clothing brands have either canceled their orders or stopped placing new ones over the past several weeks. The brands say they have no other option, because the demand for clothes has decreased significantly now that many stores in the West are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Cambodia alone up to 130 factories have asked the country’s Labor Ministry for permission to suspend their operations entirely or partly. With about 750,000 workers, the garment industry is the biggest employer in the Southeast Asian nation. Around 100,000 Cambodian workers have recently lost their jobs, either permanently or temporarily. This number is likely to increase in the weeks and months to come.

Chhouk Sarann, 26, is one of the many newly unemployed Cambodians. She got fired from her job in a garment factory in Phnom Penh after she defied a travel ban that was implemented by the government to stop the spread of COVID-19. “When I got back to the factory a few days later, I was told that I should resign. When I didn’t do that, they told me that I’m no longer employed at the factory,” Sarann told DW at a small coffee shop in Phnom Penh.

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