Toward better working conditions?

Along with Bangladeshi and Chinese workers, Cambodian women have been fighting hard in the past months. There are hundreds of thousands working in the textile industry for brands like Gap and Benetton. They usually live close to the factory, at the outskirts of Phnom Penh, and most of the time away from their family. They work for a wage that is not even enough for them to live decently.

So, when the government increased the minimum wage only up to 61$ and fired some trade union members, they went on a massive strike, claiming a raise up to 93$/month. 90$ is indeed the amount that has been considered as necessary for decent living conditions by international organisations and NGOs, taking into consideration the fact that Phom Penh is an expensive town.

Three months after the big events of September 2010, the conclusion is ambiguous. The strike was a success, in the sense that it attracted the attention of the media and improved the awareness of workers in terms of social fights and power of mass leaverage. However it was a failure because the strikers had to face virulent police forces and the wage won't be increased again for a long time.

The seamstresses working in markets (see pictures above) may be better off than the factory workers: their work-environment is less stressful and they have more control over their work-time management . They also benefit from the fact that tourists and expats are ordering many items from them. However, they still have to work a lot for very small earnings, performing exhausting tasks.

At the end, the textile industry emploies about 350 000 persons and is one of the main economic resources of the country. Working extra hours, the factory workers are currently making 75$/month on average.

Some NGOs are trying to improve the textile workers living conditions. Some fight for class awareness and social movements in large factories, running information campaigns among trade unions.

In a different way, Mademoiselle Sarong decided to do something about that too. The brand has been created by two young French women, after one of them came back from Cambodia with tons of ideas and fabrics combination in mind. Their collections are centered around that particular cotton fabric called sarong, a very colorful print that becomes in their hands a leitmotiv, collection after collection.
But taking inspiration from Cambodia made them want to give the country something back: they partnered with NGOs supporting groups of seamstresses in order to rehabilitate women with great difficulties. They say the long distance management is not necessarily easy, and that their ethic commitment often makes business and production processes more difficult, but no need to add that some things are priceless.

And the collections are gorgeous. Heart and art combined into a modern blend. I love it. And so will you.

Mademoiselle Sarong F/W Collection 2010


  1. Great post Celine! Sadly, the link to Madame Sarong's website is not working. Does the brand have a different website?

  2. Thanks Barbara! I think the link is working now!

  3. I didn't know you had a blog! :)