សារគន្លឹះ / Key Messages:
- កំណើនផលិតភាពចាំបាច់ឱ្យមានការផ្លាស់ប្តូរធនធានការងារពីវិស័យដែលមានផលិតភាពទាប ទៅវិស័យដែលផ្តល់ផលិតភាពខ្ពស់។
- ការផ្លាស់ប្តូរនេះមានន័យថា ការធ្វើបំលាស់ទីនឹងនាំឱ្យមានការរំខានដល់ជនដែលត្រូវធ្វើបំលាស់ទី ហើយការធ្វើបំលាស់ទីនេះអាចនាំឱ្យមានការរួមបញ្ចូលដោយភាពអវិជ្ជមានទៅក្នុងវិស័យសេដ្ឋកិច្ចថ្មី ដែលផលិតភាពរបស់ពួកគេកើនឡើង ប៉ុន្តែតម្រូវការ និងផលប្រយោជន៍របស់ពួកគេ មិនត្រូវបានការការពារ។
- ការស្រង់យកបទពិសោធន៍ពីការផ្លាស់ប្តូរ ពីវិស័យកសិកម្មទៅកម្មន្ដសាល ក្នុងរយៈពេល ២៥ ឆ្នាំកន្លងមកនេះ អាចផ្តល់ការយល់ដឹងអំពីថាតើរដ្ឋាភិបាលអាចប្រើប្រាស់អំណាចបទប្បញ្ញត្តិ និងគោលនយោបាយរបស់ខ្លួនដោយរបៀបណា ដើម្បីការពារប្រជាជនដែលមានការងារ និងម្ចាស់អាជីវកម្មខ្នាតតូច ពីបញ្ហានានាដែលកើតមាននាពេលអនាគត។
- គោលដៅនៃការកែលម្អក្រុមហ៊ុនខ្នាតតូចប្រកបដោយប្រសិទ្ធភាព និងការធ្វើឱ្យប្រសើរឡើងនូវមូលធនមនុស្ស ទាមទារឱ្យមានការវិនិយោគនិងនវានុវត្តន៍ពីបុគ្គលខ្លួនឯងផ្ទាល់។
- Productivity growth entails shifting labour resources from less productive to more productive sectors.
- This implies physical relocation is disruptive for people who have to move and can lead to adverse incorporation into the new economic sector where their productivity increases, but their needs and interests are not protected.
- Learning from the transition from agriculture to manufacturing over the past 25 years can provide insights into how the government can use its regulatory powers and policies to protect working people and small business owners from adverse incorporation in the future.
- The goals of improving small firm efficiency and upgrading human capital require investments and innovations from working people themselves.
Economic growth is produced by a combination of two aspects: capital formation, when investors spend money to place infrastructure for doing business; and increased labour productivity, when workers move from jobs that produce a low value into jobs that produce a higher value. High levels of economic growth are invariably celebrated as contributing to increased prosperity and well-being; however, both the building of infrastructure and plants for doing business and the movement of workers between jobs can be highly disruptive to communities, to social structures such as households and families and to the wider environment. In the next phase of growth, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) should use its extensive policy and regulatory powers to ameliorate disruption from development that harms citizens’ well-being and quality of life.
Legacies of Migration and Growth in Cambodia
Economic analyses suggest that until 2016, a major driver of productivity increase in Cambodia was the transfer of labour from the agricultural sector to the manufacturing sector. The rise of the manufacturing sector in Cambodia from 1996 to 2016 was a significant success story, providing employment in particular to young women and generating a flow of urban-rural remittances that were considered to have a significant anti-poverty effect. However, it also offers a case study in the kinds of societal problems that are caused by rapid growth, requiring government intervention and regulation.
Movement from agriculture to manufacturing required physical movement of people, often young men and women, from rural to urban areas and sometimes across international borders. This movement disrupts traditional households and communities, providing new opportunities, but also creating new problems. Cambodian factories have been monitored from the earliest days of the industry by the International Labour Organization’s programme Better Factories. This programme appears to have assisted in ensuring the worst kinds of labour abuses — child exploitation, slavery and sexual abuse of workers – have not regularly occurred in Cambodia’s manufacturing sector. Where infringements of labour standards have taken place, the programme has offered opportunities for problems to be identified and resolved in a collaborative way. This represents a major achievement.
However, beyond the factory gates, there has been far less systematic evaluation of living standards and well-being of migrants and the families they leave behind, and the results of the research that has been done is sometimes contradictory. The following examples indicate some areas where migrant workers in Cambodia have faced problems and dangers along the way.
- In 2017, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) surveyed the impact of migration on children , including those that moved with their parents and those that stayed behind. The report found that no government or international agency in Cambodia collects systematic data on migrants or children of migrants, despite migration having formed a major plank of Cambodia’s development strategy. The study raised concerns regarding the burden of care imposed on elderly grandparents, often in poor health, when children are left behind. It reported that migrant children face difficulties enrolling in urban schools and often live in unsafe accommodation, including makeshift camps on construction sites. The study recommended that the government should collect better data on children of migrants and should extend support to their carers in rural areas (UNICEF 2017).
- A scientific study of malnutrition among factory workers, conducted in 2016, concluded that “the prevalence of underweight, anemia and poor iron status among [factory workers] is of concern”, and warned, “higher salaries might not automatically lead to improved nutrition among workers in the short term, as they primarily fulfill a major contribution to the social securing of their family households.” The burden of remitting a proportion of their wage to rural dependents significantly affected the health of factory workers. The study suggested that better social security systems and health security systems for low-income rural households was necessary to ensure that factory workers did not go hungry while supporting rural households (Makurat et al, 2016).
- A group of Cambodian trade unions studied urban accommodation for factory workers in 2020 and found that the largely private rental housing industry “is often failing its low-income renters, such as factory workers, because of an unequal power relationship between landlords and renters.” Factory workers lived in poor quality and unsafe housing, and were subject to arbitrary rent increases and harassment from landlords. The report suggested that the government should provide better support in the form of “regulation, education and enforcement of the law” (Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions et al, 2020).
- A 2022 study by an international NGO found that Cambodian garment workers are adversely affected by climate change. Increased air pollution, heat within the workplace and flooding that causes plant closures have become increasingly common, and the report’s authors calculate this has led to a 2.75 percent decrease in productivity due to ill health and missed days of work. The report also found workers who are not unionised or who are on flexible contracts suffered a greater shortfall in pay as a result. The report’s authors argue that more attention should be paid to garment workers’ concerns in order to ensure that “the costs and risks of climate change are not borne overwhelmingly by workers” (Parsons et al, 2022).
- Migration for work carries risks of trafficking, and this has long been a concern for Cambodian nationals crossing illegally into Thailand for work, particularly in the sex and fishing industries. The Cambodian government identified almost 1,000 returning victims or suspected victims of trafficking at the Poipet Migrant Transfer Center in 2022 (US Embassy 2023). Survivors of trafficking are prone to economic marginalisation, social stigma and poor mental health (Cordisco Tsai, et al 2021). Recently, sharply rising numbers of foreign nationals trafficked into Cambodia to work in cyber scam and sex operations in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville have become a significant concern (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2023). This necessitated a major police crackdown in 2023.
Adverse Incorporation, Productivity and Vulnerability
These different studies indicate the extent to which improving factor productivity by moving workers has been fraught with danger and difficulty. Workers who leave behind children, who are malnourished due to the need to remit large proportions of their wages, who live in expensive and unsafe housing or who end up trafficked may be described as adversely incorporated into new sectors of the economy. Adverse incorporation “captures the ways in which localised livelihood strategies are enabled and constrained by economic, social and political relations [and] driven by inequalities of power” (Hickey and Du Toit, 2007). It implies that gains from increased productivity are secured, not by the worker themselves, but by employers or landlords, leaving the worker in a precarious and marginalised position.
Adverse incorporation can occur alongside successful income poverty reduction: migrant workers move because they expect their cash income to increase. But in doing so, they forgo certain aspects of security, as they leave behind community-based social support networks, access to housing with family and access to land to grow subsistence food. In their new context, they engage with different sets of actors – landlords, employers and officials – in relationships that are characterised by unequal power. This means that their claim on resources becomes more precarious – for example, a member of a subsistence farming household is likely to be fed by the household if they are sick, but a sick factory employee will not be fed by their employer. This leads to heightened vulnerability to adverse shocks. This was clearly demonstrated in Cambodia during both the COVID-19 crisis of 2020-2021 and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, when many migrants returned to rural farms in an attempt to maintain food security as factories closed down.
Household and Small Business Investments and Government Policy
Understanding the situation of migrant workers over the past two decades is essential to strategising for “a new growth model based on skills, technology, and innovation” as envisaged in the RGC’s Pentagonal Strategy. The economic analyses offered by my Cambodia Development Resource Institute colleagues suggest two key ways of promoting a revival of lagging factor productivity growth: promoting efficiency amongst small firms and boosting human capital in the workforce. Without improvement in these two areas, infrastructure investments alone will have a limited effect.
These improvements do not take place without someone to implement them. Who, exactly, needs to take the lead in investing in skills, technology and innovation as the basis for a new growth model? While direct investment from foreign firms, large domestic firms, the government or NGOs might offer a partial answer, it is clear the driving force behind this shift will be the willingness of individual workers, their households and small business owners to invest their own efforts, time and resources in these opportunities. It is individual workers, households and entrepreneurs who will determine the success or failure of the strategy, by deciding whether or not to spend resources learning new skills, sending children to school, taking a risk on a small investment, buying modern equipment or moving to a new place to start a new job.
The key argument of this blog is that a crucial factor determining whether small firms and individual workers will invest in these ways, or will thrive when they do so, is the extent to which their interests and needs are protected within the contemporary economy. At the level of the individual, household and small firm, adverse incorporation and precarity do not promote boldness, innovation and upgrading. They are more likely to lead to deployment of defensive coping strategies of risk aversion, and ways of dealing with downturns that actually deplete household capital. These include coping strategies that deplete human capital, including under investment in healthy food and taking children out of school and putting them to work. They can also utilise coping strategies that deplete financial and fixed capital, including taking on loans to pay for basic needs and selling valuable assets at a loss to cope with periodic emergencies (UNICEF et al, 2022). Repeated episodes of household-level capital depletion combined with the disempowerment associated with adverse incorporation produce a lack of faith among ordinary people in the possibility of gaining or retaining any kind of return on investments. The problems cited in the first section above affecting migrating workers – difficulties in childcare, nutrition, housing and risk of trafficking – all make it more difficult for workers to invest in upgrading their own productivity, and therefore it becomes less likely that they will do so.
Upgrading the Cambodian economy through the five Strategic Pentagons of human capital development; economic diversification and competitiveness enhancement; development of private sector and employment; resilient, sustainable, and inclusive development; and development of digital economy and society therefore requires a shift in focus towards households and small businesses as the drivers of development. Supporting these actors requires assessing not only the strengths, but also the limitations of past strategies. It requires the collection of data regarding the multiple challenges affecting the economic, social and cultural rights and needs of the individuals and households. These groups power the Cambodian economy, and expanding government monitoring, provision, policy and regulation to ensure that these rights and needs are reliably provided is imperative.
Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, Federation Union of Free and Independent, and Sahmakum Teang Thnaot (2020), Low-Income Rental Housing in Urban Areas: Research Focusing on Factory Workers and the Right to Housing, online at https://teangtnaut.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Low-Income-Rental-Housing_ENG_FINAL-1.pdf
Cordisco Tsai, Laura, Vanntheary Lim, Channtha Nhanh, and Sophie Namy, (2022), “ “They Did Not Pay Attention or Want to Listen When We Spoke”: Women’s Experiences in a Trafficking-Specific Shelter in Cambodia,” Affilia, 37.1:151-168, online at https://doi.org/10.1177/0886109920984839
Hickey, Sam, and Andries Du Toit (2007), Adverse Incorporation, Social Exclusion and Chronic Poverty, CPRC Working Paper 81, online at https://www.chronicpoverty.org/uploads/publication_files/WP81_Hickey_duToit.pdf
Makurat, Jan, Hanna Friedrich, Khov Kuong, Frank T. Wieringa, Chhoun Chamnan, and Michael B. Krawinkel, (2016), “Nutritional and Micronutrient Status of Female Workers in a Garment Factory in Cambodia,” Nutrients 8.11: 694, online at https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8110694
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2023), Online Scam Operations and Trafficking into Forced Criminality in Southeast Asia: Recommendations for a Human Rights Response online at https://bangkok.ohchr.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/ONLINE-SCAM-OPERATIONS-2582023.pdf
Parsons, Laurie, Sabina Lawreniuk, Sok Serey & Joe Buckley, (2022), Hot trends: How the global garment industry shapes climate change vulnerability in Cambodia. Royal Holloway, University of London and University of Nottingham, online at https://www.solidaritycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Hot-Trends-Report.pdf
United Nations Children’s Fund, 2017 Executive Summary: Study on the Impact of Migration on Children in the Capital and Target Provinces, Cambodia, online at
United Nations Children’s Fund, World Food Program, Asian Development Bank (2022), Cambodia: COVID19 Socio-Economic Impact Assessment Phase 2, online at https://www.wfp.org/publications/cambodia-covid-19-socio-economic-impact-assessment-phase-2-report
United States Embassy Cambodia (2023) 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Cambodia, online at https://kh.usembassy.gov/2023-trafficking-in-persons-report-cambodia/