Cambodia’s garment exports increased 20 percent in value in 2013, despite the sector being marred by industrial action and political unrest that cost an estimated $200 million.
Garments and textiles accounted for 80 percent of Cambodia’s total exports and were worth $5.53 billion last year, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Commerce, while the sector saw 131 strikes during the first 11 months of the year—a ten-year high. In 2012, garment exports were worth $4.61 billion.
Ken Loo, secretary-general for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), who has consistently lamented the effect strikes have on the sector, said the growth is not a true reflection of the state of the industry and means very little.
“I wouldn’t say the export figure is disappointing, but export value alone doesn’t mean much. The number of factories has increased 30 percent, so if exports have increased 20 percent; you tell me if that’s a good number.”
“A better indication of the sector is to look at new investments and the number of factories that have closed and the number of days lost.”
Mr. Loo could not provide figures for the number of new investments and factory closures. The number of lost man-days due to strikes was 825,646 during the first 11 months of last year, an increase of 54 percent on the same period the year before, according to the figures from GMAC.
In December, thousands of garment workers joined CNRP supporters at protests to demand a doubling of the monthly minimum wage to $160. On January 3, protesters in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district were met with extreme force when military police opened fire, killing five. GMAC said the unrest during those weeks cost the industry $200 million.
When asked if the industry’s growth may lead to meeting workers’ minimum wage demands, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Ken Ratha said: “I don’t think so,” adding that the government is currently working out other ways to resolve the wage dispute.
© 2014, All rights reserved.