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‘Speak Up’ campaign says factories must invest more in safe transport for workers

Harrison White

A new road safety initiative funded by USAID and in collaboration with the Solidarity Center and the AIP Foundation has outlined that factories and the international brands they produce for must invest more in the safe and comfortable transportation of their employees.

The campaign named ‘Speak Up’ will encourage workers to start a constructive dialogue with employers about the collective transportation made available for them as well as assist in the implementation of best practices for private travel to and from work on motorbikes.

The plan will initially focus on 30 target factories along main and national roads, primarily in Phnom Penh, Kandal, and Kampong Speu and other high-risk provinces. A 2016 study of 233 factories found 7,619 days were lost due to traffic accidents over 12 months.

The program will focus on three key components and activities including:

  • Conduct research to promote evidence-based policy and practice change.
  • Collaborate with industry stakeholders, civil society organizations and trade unions.
  • Increase the reach of safety intervention to 30 target factories.

It is hoped addressing these factors will reduce the currently dangerous environment for workers who are integral to Cambodia’s $10+ billion US garment and footwear industry.

Productive dialogue between staff and employers

Speaking at the campaign launch Kim Pagna, Cambodia Country Director of AIP Foundation outlined the importance road safety had on the overall economy, as well as the impact work injuries, had on factory productivity.

Speak Up
Kim Pagna, Cambodia Country Director of AIP Foundation.

“Workers must ‘Speak Up’ to both factory owners and their colleagues about ensuring transport to and from work follows best practice such as helmet wearing, safe driving and not overcrowding of shared transport,” he said.

“In addition, we are exploring the idea of requiring motorbike companies and even finance providers of being required under law to supply good quality helmets and safety wear for the purchase of new motorbikes,” he added.

There are over 700,000 factory workers in Cambodia with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Report on Annual Achievements 2019 and Action Plans 2020 revealing that 36% of all reported workers’ occupational risks involved commuting crashes.

According to the findings many of the vehicles they rely on for transport are not fit for purpose with unregistered, under-maintained, and overcrowded. Drivers are often less experienced; many are only recently licensed.

To read more about about Cambodia’s garment sector balancing profits and sustainability click here.

For those who do not use collective transport, the danger lies with inconsistent adherence to safety rules, hazardous drivers, and poor road infrastructure. These workers, often commuting by motorcycle, need to be aware of road safety rules, and Cambodian traffic law and have knowledge of the dangers of risky driving behavior, it found.

An overloaded truck carries garment workers in Cambodia.

DJ Nana, a well-known social media influencer explained during the launch that it was important for employers to be firm with their staff and create a culture of safe driving to and from work.

“Workers must take some personal responsibility for their own driving actions as well as factories must ensure that transportation provided is properly maintained, drivers adhere to the road laws and good quality helmets are worn,” she said.

No framework for international brands to follow

William Conklin, Cambodia Country Director of the US labor movement funded Solidarity Center said factories in Cambodia had been failing at road safety for a long time.

“This [road safety] is not a new issue for Cambodia and brands who make billions of dollars a year must take responsibility for ensuring their workers are provided safe and comfortable transport to and from work,” he said.

To read more about the CSR requirements placed on Cambodia factories click here.

DJ Nana speaking at the launch event.

Responding to a question from Cambodia Investment Review about what the AIP Foundation specifically wanted from international brands Kim Pagna expressed “more assistance” in implementing policies and initiatives to reduce road trauma.

“International brands should work with organizations and factories to implement the policies that we know increase road safety,” he said.

According to the AIP Foundation under Cambodian law, there is currently no established framework of protections for commuting workers. While the NSSF covers necessary medical costs of work-related accidents (which includes commuting injuries); however, long-term compensation is limited.

“The impacts of an injury or death to a worker and their family can often be devastating and irreversible. Factory-level measures to prevent road crashes are critical, in addition to sustained support post-recovery. Successful interventions by the civil society sector, such as the Transport Working Group (TWG) and its individual affiliated members, have created the foundation for further action,” they said.

“The TWG, which is being coordinated by Better Factories Cambodia (ILO) was established in 2016 and its members include international garment and apparel buyers/brands sourcing from Cambodia, Solidarity Center, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and AIP Foundation,” they added.

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