Boom built on ‘slavery’

Kong Sophat (right) works in a kiln in a Kandal province brick factory last month. Sophat lost his arm in a workplace accident a few years ago. Pha Lina

Shaun Turton and Niem Chheng
The Phnom Penh Post, Fri, 2 December 2016

The use of debt bondage to trap workers in “modern day slavery” is widespread in many of Cambodia’s brick-making factories, indicates research by rights group Licadho, whose findings suggest the Kingdom’s recent building boom is built on the illegal practice.

In a report released today titled Built on Slavery: Debt Bondage and Child Labour in Cambodia’s Brick Factories, the organisation documents the exploitation of both adults and children at factories in Tbong Khmum, Kandal and Phnom Penh, which every day funnel tens of thousands of bricks to construction sites around the capital.

Through interviews with about 50 workers, Licadho found all but one were working to pay off loans of between $1,000 and $6,000 provided by owners, who used bondage to guarantee a “long-term, cheap and compliant workforce”, the authors argue.

Paid “by piece” rates – cash per brick amounting to between $2 and $10 per day – the labourers were often unable to repay the money, leaving them trapped in perpetual servitude and poverty.

Further, the debt bondage – which is illegal under Cambodian and international law – has ensnared multiple generations of the same families, a major reason for the prevalence of child labour in the hazardous industry, according to the report, released to coincide with the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

Visits by the Post to two brick factories this week confirmed the practice appeared widespread. One factory owner ac-knowledged that some businesses, on the lookout for good workers, would even poach labourers from other sites by acquiring their debts. (more…)

Posted on: December 1, 2016 8:30 pm