The Better Factories programme aims to improve labour conditions and the profitability of the garment industry

The Better Factories programme aims to improve labour conditions and the profitability of the garment industry

The Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) initiative has been renewed again after reaching its 15-year anniversary, with a commitment to continue tackling the challenges that remain in the country's garment sector.

Late last month Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng, Commerce Minister Pan Sorasak, and the Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC) renewed their commitment to the BFC programme, which they say has brought "crucial improvements" to the country's garment sector. 

Its aim is to improve labour conditions and industry profitability through a combination of factory assessments, tailored training for both workers and managers, factory advisory services, and public disclosure of working conditions on factory floors. 

On the inception of the tripartite partnership 15 years ago, less than 70% of factories were paying minimum wage. Today, almost all are, according to the BFC, adding that the improvements have gone hand-in-hand with strong incremental growth in the industry.

In 2001, Cambodia became the first country to establish factory assessments by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as a legal requirement for garment exporting factories. The initiative resulted in improved factory conditions and labour standards, a $500m increase in yearly garment exports, and an improvement to Cambodia's image as an ethical country to source garments from. 

Esther Germans, programme manager for Better Factories Cambodia, however, admits the past 15 years have not been without challenges, such as instability, industrial disputes, and a global economic crisis. 

"The period has seen many discussions, consultations, agreements, and disagreements, as well as failure and achievements," she adds. "Throughout it all, the BFC partnership has continuously evolved towards a model that benefits all in the supply chain from the worker to the investor."

Germans also acknowledges many challenges still lie ahead. "While stepping up efforts to make our work more sustainable, in factories as well as with our partners, we will continue to focus on helping to ensure that the Cambodian workers work in safe factories, where their rights are being respected and where they are empowered to resolve workplace issues with an increasingly skilled management force."

Recent data from the ILO points to a 14.7% jump in Cambodia's clothing shipments to $1.605bn during the first quarter of this year. One industry observer, however, believes the overall situation of the Cambodian garment industry is less optimistic.

Cambodia garment sector faces ongoing challenges