The European Union’s move to revoke Cambodia’s duty-free access could force major clothing brands out of the manufacturing hub and worsen conditions for workers. Cambodia has six months to convince its biggest export market that it has arrested a backslide on human rights and democracy. If it fails, the EU will strike it from the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme, which could trigger a chain of events that advocates fear will rob them of their strongest leverage point in the fight for improved working conditions.
About 700,000 people - mostly women - work in Cambodia’s garment industry, which accounts for the lion’s share of the country’s $5.8 billion worth of exports to the EU each year. The industry is beset by forced overtime, unsafe working conditions and the obstruction of unionisation. But in recent years, worker’s plight has been pushed into the spotlight, with advocacy groups running campaigns that have forced brands to clean up supply chains in a race to retain their share of an increasingly aware consumer market.