The ILO report found that top compliance issues remain constant in Cambodias garment industry

The ILO report found that top compliance issues remain constant in Cambodia's garment industry

Transparent reporting of garment factory compliance in Cambodia is contributing to better conditions for workers, a new study has found – although the top compliance issues remain ongoing.

The 33rd Synthesis Report from the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) initiative looks at working conditions and respect for worker rights across 381 factories during the year from May 2015 to April 2016.

Improvements

According to the report, a range of legal requirements are now widely addressed in the industry, including those related to the payment of minimum wages and the provision of maternity leave. Additionally, for the second year in a row, the number of confirmed cases of child labour – typically between 12-15 years old – has dropped from 65 in 2013 to 16 in 2015. 

The findings also indicate that important improvements have been made since the BFC programme began publicly reporting its findings in early 2014.

Comparing the status before and after public reporting, a 13% improvement was found in holding regular evacuation drills, a 10% improvement in unlocking emergency exit doors, and a 6% improvement in non-discrimination of workers. Additionally, around 47% of factories now comply with all 21 critical issues, up from 28% two years ago. 

Better Factories Cambodia says collaboration between the tripartite constituents and the ILO has resulted in renewed commitment from partners for a new strategic phase for BFC that focuses on closer collaboration with national stakeholders, in particular with the Royal Government of Cambodia, on upholding compliance in the industry.

Esther Germans, programme manager of the ILO-BFC, explains: "While an increase of some compliance levels is a positive signal for the garment industry and their workers, there is also a need for further improvement in common areas of non-compliance.

"As a result, Better Factories Cambodia is placing even more emphasis on supporting factories and workers in identifying and addressing the root-causes of challenges they are facing. The programme is also entering into much closer collaboration with the government around increasing capacity for workplace inspections and the application of the government's role on enforcement and remediation."

Issues remain constant

Indeed, despite the positives, the results show that more than half the assessed factories failed to comply with at least one of the most critical issues.

Health and safety standards were among the most abused. Seven out of the eight compliance points had higher than a 50% non-compliance rate. The report found that around 87% of factories lacked adequate lighting, 69% were too hot – a common cause of mass faintings – and 59% lacked sanitary drinking water.

Many of the areas related to health and safety continue to be a challenge for garment factories for a number of reasons, the report points out. Namely, legal requirements that are not easy to meet, such as undertaking medical examinations prior to contracting workers, and insufficient management systems in place, including OSH policies, procedures and responsibilities.

The latter challenge, report authors note, is not exclusive to Cambodia. Recognising the challenges factories face around ensuring occupational safety and health, BFC is putting more emphasis on helping factories develop the necessary management systems and, in collaboration with GMAC (Garment Manufacturers in Cambodia) and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, is putting increased effort on its training programme on OSH issues.

The report also points out that around three-quarters, or 76%, of factories were found to be abusing the two-hour daily overtime limit. Around 10% were non-compliant on regular hours, and 33% on leave. 

"Overtime remains a challenging area in the global garment sector as it is related to production demands such as a rush shipment date, last minute changes to orders, as well as lack of proper production planning," authors note. "Most areas on leave, including the number of leave days, special leave days and maternity leave have low non-compliance levels," they explain. 

Other issues driving non-compliance include a two-year limit on the use of fixed-term duration contracts, contracts not complying with the labour law, and management not sufficiently explaining the contracts' terms and conditions to workers. 

Moving forward

The Project Advisory Committee (PAC) of the ILO Better Factories Cambodia Programme (BFC), which endorsed the report, said it recognises there are still "sector wide challenges" that need improvement, with collaboration between industry players key to driving improvements.

It suggests they take "concrete, measurable actions" to complement individual factory efforts, and offers four suggestions:

  • The Royal Government of Cambodia make effective use of numerous enforcement mechanisms to uphold the provisions in the labour law, especially in factories with low compliance.
  • The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) foster a culture of compliance among its members. Similar initiatives to its collaboration with BFC on child labour would work.
  • Trade unions strengthen their understanding of and commitment to the responsibilities of unions – including following strike procedures. Unions are in a position to engage management and/or employer organisations in dialogue and collective bargaining to find constructive solutions to factory-and industry-level problems.
  • International buyers sourcing from Cambodia wield considerable influence in the factories in which they source. Their willingness to engage suppliers can help drive improvements in factories and thereby improve working conditions and the industry's reputation globally.

"Collaboration with and between the Royal Government of Cambodia, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, trade unions, factory owners and international buyers remains essential to drive sector wide change," Germans concludes. "The ILO-BFC programme will continue to collaborate with its constituents to promote the growth and sustainability of the industry."

Click here to view the full report.