Oxfam has released a research report urging an overhaul of standards for garment subcontractors, to ensure decent employment and social safeguards for women workers. The organisation's research finds that women in these subcontracted companies have not yet received appropriate protections.

The report, released on June 21, revealed that garment subcontractors account for between 15 and 30 per cent of the total workforce in the apparel industry, which comprises 1 million workers. However, it acknowledged the difficulty in determining the exact number of subcontractors, as some factories are not registered with the Ministry of Commerce or authorised by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.

The report examined seven garment subcontractors in Phnom Penh, three in Kampong Speu province and two in Svay Rieng, interviewing 605 workers and 24 managers.

It found that these companies generally send their products to larger factories that receive orders from well-known brands and buyers.

However, the findings indicate a significant deficit in access to decent work and social protection for the women employed by these subcontractors.

The report recommends that stakeholders gain an in-depth understanding of subcontracting employment, promote workers' access to social support and improve other relevant working conditions.

“Research findings on access to decent work and social protection amongst women workers in Cambodia’s subcontract factories are concerning. We need to work together with the government, international brand companies, consumers and other stakeholders to ensure [workers'] rights … are safeguarded as much as those in registered factories,” said Oxfam national director Sophoan Phean.

She added that the report will be submitted to the government through relevant ministries and stakeholders for policy intervention and improvement of rights for women workers in Cambodia’s subcontract factories.

Phean emphasised that subcontracted factories continue to play an important role in providing employment opportunities for workers. However, she stressed that there are ongoing concerns about working standards and conditions, particularly access to social support.

Hiv Raksmey, undersecretary of state at the labour ministry, said at the launch of the study that the government would review the report as it could serve as input for decision-making on relevant policies for workers.

"This report is important in contributing to the Royal Government’s decision-making process and establishing policies to continue improving working conditions … and to ensure that all workers, both in formal and informal employment, have decent employment. This will promote an environment that is conducive to business and investment in Cambodia," he said.

According to Raksmey, there are currently about 950,000 workers in factories across the country. During the first five months of 2024, exports of garments, footwear and travel goods (GFT) amounted to $5.5 billion, up 24 per cent from the same period in 2023.