News

To earn a living, workers abort babies

They make your clothes for a living - but Cambodia's garment workers struggle to survive.

After a 10-hour shift stitching clothes for Western brands, Cambodian factory worker Ry Srey Bopha walks to her tiny shared room, eats leftovers, then sleeps on the floor.

That's the typical day for the country's 650,000 garment workers. “Life in the garment factories is very difficult,” she told AFP. “But I need the money so I just try to be patient.”

Ms Bopha rarely sees her five-year-old daughter, who is being raised by a grandparent in the countryside.

 


Cambodian garment worker Ry Srey Bopha cuting vegetables in her room near the factory in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP

The country's booming garment sector has seen factory numbers swelling - and working conditions worsening.

From a violent strike that saw police gunning down four protesters, to repeated mass faintings on the factory floor, the sector's woes are alarming some of its clients in the West.

Ms Bopha recently passed out on the job, after inhaling fumes from chemicals used on the clothes

“Even if we’re sick and cannot work they cut out salaries," she said. "We work when we’re ill.”


Ry Srey Bopha (2nd L) and her friend Chin Sophea (L) buying vegetables at a market near the factory in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP

Many female workers say they are forced to choose between their family and their job.

“I can’t keep my daughter here as there is no childcare at the factory,” said worker Ton Sam Ol, mother to a month-old baby. If her mother cannot help care for the baby, “I’ll have to quit,” she said.

Ms Ol was given a small amount of paid maternity leave - a rarity when many factories have taken to employing female workers on short-term contracts to avoid paying such benefits, union leaders say.

Some factories even terminate the labour contracts of pregnant workers, said Moeun Tola of the Community Legal Education Center, a local rights group.

As a result, “some workers decided to abort when they become pregnant,” he said.

Workers also don’t dare to turn down overtime or protest conditions. "They just work hard even when they’re sick,” he said. “Their situation is like modern day slavery."


A general view of a building which garment workers stay near the factory in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP


Cambodian garment workers standing on a truck as they traveling along a street in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP


Cambodian garment workers having lunch at a shop in front of a factory in Phnom Penh. Photo: AFP

- AFP