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Stitched up in Cambodia

When having a baby means losing your job

Many international brands choose to manufacture their clothes in countries offering cheap labour. Very often, however, these savings are paid for by the most vulnerable groups in society.

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In the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, most garment workers are women. When a seamstress gets pregnant, she can expect to be fired. There is a law that protects workers’ rights, although few are aware of it. It provides for three months paid maternity leave for workers who have been fully employed for a year. Still, unscrupulous employers are able to circumvent this right by only offering seamstresses three-month renewable contracts. These agreements also make it easier for a factory boss to sack a female worker quickly once her pregnancy becomes known. Trade unions here hold little sway as big businesses are dominant.

Once they are laid off, women stand little chance of returning to their factory jobs even after giving birth. This leaves them with no means of supporting themselves. They become reliant on their relatives for help, and are often reduced to living in poverty. This is why seamstresses try to hide their pregnancies from their employers, continuing to do a physically-demanding job and putting their babies’ health at risk.

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However, even though they work long hours, they can still make less than $200 a month – not nearly enough to put away for their future babies’ needs. Meanwhile, the international brands that make vast profits from these goods continue to turn a blind eye to the plight of those who actually make them. 

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