Behind the Fashion

The fashion world decks itself in glitz and glamour, but remains silent on the innumerable stories of the people who work in the textile industry or related sectors. Here, six Cambodians tell their stories of difficult work conditions, struggles, and resistance.

Chheng Danou

Portrait of Chheng Danou: “That’s why I helped found the union in my factory, so as to be protected by the law.”

Chheng Danou is in her second year of a law and business degree.

Until 2016 she worked in a textile factory and was active as a union leader in the federation of trade unions. Chheng Danou kept hearing how factory workers were taken to task when targets were not met, or how women did not receive permission to look after their sick children. Either that or they were suddenly dismissed. “That’s why I helped found the union in my factory, so as to be protected by the law.” But her union activities encountered resistance. The factory owners offered Chheng Danou money to cease various activities or leave the union. Today Chheng Danou is studying. Once she has her degree, she wants to work in the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and fight to improve the situation of women in the fashion industry.

When our union sued buyers over the bad working conditions in their factories, the buyers didn’t look for solutions—instead they cancelled their orders.

Union organizing in Cambodia:

Article 36 of the Cambodian constitution permits workers to found independent unions—on paper, at least. The reality is different. Factory owners often respond to union organizing among their workers with discrimination, harassment, or dismissal. The government frequently cracks down violently on protests. And so in Cambodia, when it comes to opportunities to organize, the right to strike, and the ability to bargain collectively, freedom of association is heavily restricted.


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