Oxfam and the Laudes Foundation’s ‘Inclusive National Social Protection Initiatives that Response to the Needs of Apparel Industry Employees’ (INSPIRE) project aims to support the Royal Government of Cambodia in strengthening inclusive social protection for workers in the country’s apparel sector.

It has launched due to several studies suggesting that access to social protection amongst apparel industry employees, particularly contract workers, remains a fundamental challenge, despite a strong commitment of the Royal Government of Cambodia and stakeholders.

The hope is the project will mean apparel industry workers and households will become less vulnerable thanks to having better access to the National Social Security Fund and other social protection benefits.

The current challenges, which are said to be more critical for female contract workers, include the lack of access to information about social protection schemes and benefits, lack of compliance amongst apparel industry employers, and the quality of services provided and available to apparel industry workers.

Both Oxfam and the Laudes Foundation, which focus on inequalities ranging from poverty to climate change, believe these challenges have threatened the commitment and effort made by Cambodia’s government to strengthen and expand the coverage of inclusive social protections in the country.

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The project is expected to benefit 23,000 people in Cambodia directly and 735,000 indirectly, with hopes to reach one million individuals via public awareness campaigns, position papers, evidence-based research, and other communication activities.

It is also being jointly implemented by four NGO and trade unions: Centre for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), and Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU).

The main objective of the INSPIRE project is to contribute to the efforts being made in Cambodia to reduce poverty and inequality by strengthening the social protection system.

Oxfam and the Laudes Foundation believe the project will strategically contribute to positive improvement of coverage and access to gender transformative social protection for apparel industry workers. It will also strengthen the capacity of trade unions to represent and negotiate workers’ social protection needs and entitlements.

Trade Unions will also be supported to influence social protection policy outcomes through their meaningful participation in multi-stakeholder dialogues and decision-making meetings at national level, tripartite dialogues, and Oxfam’s existing social protection for all (SP4ALL) platform. The initiative will enable apparel industry workers across 12 provinces and municipalities to better access to social protections schemes and benefits, information, and to uphold service providers more accountable. It will also support the Royal Government of Cambodia to integrate gender-transformative social protection approach into its social protection policy intervention, the two non-profits say.

“Oxfam is committed to working with and supporting the Royal Government of Cambodia and stakeholders to reduce poverty and inequality amongst apparel industry employees especially those who are in the informal arrangements, the majority of them women, by enhancing their access to inclusive social protection,” says Oxfam’s national director Sophoan Phean. “Having access to social protection is critical for them and their households, as it helps sustain their well-being, build resilience, and reduce risk of global shocks or pandemic.”

Laudes Foundation’s head of labour rights programme, Jill Tucker, adds: “Contributory social security schemes like the NSSF strengthen the social contract and provide a basis for workers to demand support and protection when they experience illness, workplace injuries or economic shocks. Fulfilling this promise hinges in part on workers’ voices being better represented and reflected in policy discussions. Through collaboration with Oxfam on the INSPIRE initiative, we believe apparel industry workers in Cambodia will be able to access the benefits they are entitled to under the NSSF.”

The non-profits point out Cambodia’s government is committed to social protection for all and building a resilient and inclusive society. Its NSSF scheme in particular is said to greatly benefit apparel industry employees. In fact, the organisations claim that in 2020 alone a total of 80,000 female garment workers received maternity allowances from the government which accounted for US$7.9m. 

Oxfam and the Laudes Foundation and their partners will work closely with several strategic partners to make the necessary changes, such as National Social Protection Council (NSPC), National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT), The Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF), Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA). It will also involve international brand companies and apparel industry employers, and other stakeholders to strengthen and safeguard inclusive social protection for apparel industry employees across the Kingdom.

Earlier this year, the Laudes Foundation rolled out its new Transparency in Action platform, which aims to ensure clothing and footwear brands are compliant ahead of it being required by law.