A host of recruitment agencies has sprung up in Cambodia, with many former garment workers deciding to go abroad to find work, hoping for higher wages. However, the agencies do not always treat workers very well.
Thousands of Cambodian garment workers lost their jobs when factories shut down
According to a 2009 study by the International Labor Organization, nearly 10,000 legal migrant workers left Cambodia in 2007, going primarily to Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea to work as domestic helpers and factory workers.
Labor migration is often associated with problems such as debt, human trafficking, slavery or prostitution. In order to prevent such problems, the Cambodian government introduced laws allowing only qualified and licensed agencies to recruit migrant workers.
Many factories in Cambodia have shut down as a result of the global financial crisis
However, Moeun Tola from the Cambodian NGO, the Community Legal Education Center, says that new problems have arisen as a result: "The recruiting agents lend money to the families and the workers are kept in training centers."
He says that the workers liken the conditions in these recruitment centers to those in prison. "The agents lock the door and force them to stay inside the rooms. They do not have phone connections to call home. When people want to go home because of the conditions, the companies ask for compensation, saying they have lent money to the families."
Not enough inspections
Recently, the Champa Manpower Group, one of 28 licensed labor recruitment firms in the country, was accused of illegally detaining more than 230 women under very poor conditions.
Another one, called VC Manpower, was found to have recruited over 20 underage girls.
"It's not bad that the Ministry of Labor provides the license to those companies," says Moeun Tola, adding however that "the ministry fails to play another important role, that of monitoring, of conducting inspections. Their absence is seen as an opportunity by employers to exploit workers."
Recruitment agencies refute allegations of exploitation
The Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies argues that workers and their families lie about their real age and therefore underage workers are recruited.
Many of the women who lost their jobs have decided to try their luck abroad
Sok Chanpheakday, the secretary general of the association, insists the agencies have the best intentions: "Because of our experiences so far, we thought that the workers didn’t have money for transport or to do blood tests. When they are training they do not have enough income to provide food for the families so we found we should offer them loans."
As an immediate solution, the Community Legal Education Centre, which offers legal assistance and training to all Cambodians, has provided lawyers free of charge to workers who have been asked by their recruitment agencies to pay compensation. But the NGO argues that stronger regulation and monitoring of the agencies by the Cambodian government are necessary in the long-term.
Author: Pin Manika
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein