Global downturn threatens Cambodian garment success

Mon Mar 23, 2009 9:12am EDT
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By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Mon Moeun, one of thousands of Cambodians pulled out of poverty by a job in the garment trade since foreign investors arrived in the 1990s, may be back rearing pigs soon after a collapse in demand from Western countries.

Many garment factories in Cambodia are closing as shoppers in the United States, Europe and elsewhere cut back on clothing purchases due to the global financial crisis.

Garments are Cambodia's biggest export earner and its economy may shrink this year due to the drop in demand.

Moeun and his wife have suffered a double blow. They used to earn $80 a month each as garment workers, sending half of it back to support their 8-year-old son living with Moeun's parents in the southern province of Takeo.

Then, three months ago, their factories shut without notice.

"We see hard times ahead when we get back to the countryside, raising pigs and planting vegetables to make a living," said Moeun, 39, chatting with friends under a tree near a shuttered factory on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.

More than 1,000 workers were owed pay when South Korean-owned Da Joo (Cambodia) Ltd. closed. It has become an all too familiar story.

At its peak, Cambodia's garment sector boasted almost 300 factories employing 340,000 workers, many of them women from the countryside.   Continued...