Cambodia’s commerce minister held out hope this week the US would grant a bonus on the country’s garment export quota before the end of the year.
“According to unofficial news, America is planning to give us from 3 percent to 5 percent increase as a bonus,” Cham Prasidh told reporters Monday on his return from the US to meet with trade officials.
The US has linked increased import levels from Cambodia to labor rights, and this year granted only a 5 percent increase instead of the full 14 percent because of local factories’ failure to fully comply with Cambodia’s labor law.
The commerce minister, however, said US officials he met praised Cambodia for working to improve factory conditions.
If a bonus quota is granted, it would mean increased production and profits for Cambodia’s booming garment industry, which employs 100,000 workers and last year exported $600 million worth of clothing.
The rise of the low-wage industry—one of the few manufacturing sectors to bring investment to Cambodia—has brought with it criticism of exploitation and a rapidly developing union movement.
In June, more than 20,000 garment workers staged a six-day strike seeking a hike in the $40-per-month minimum wage. The government labor advisory committee later granted a raise of $5 per month.
Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said he has mixed feelings about the possibility of a quota hike.
“I want the US to increase the quota, but the first step must be respect for labor laws. The second step is an increase in the quota,” Chea Vichea said Tuesday. “It’s not good to reward the factory owners now,” he said.
“The worker will not get the bonus. If they increase the quota now, that will just increase forced overtime.”
(Reporting for the Cambodia Daily by John Gravois)