Oxfam and the Laudes Foundation launch a project to promote inclusive social protection for apparel industry employees

Text by: Sopharith Sin/INSPIRE Project Lead

INCLUSIVE SOCIAL PROTECTION is critical to achieving gender equity and poverty reduction in Cambodia. Today, Oxfam and Laudes Foundation launched “Inclusive National Social Protection Initiatives that Response to the Needs of Apparel Industry Employees” (INSPIRE) to support the Royal Government of Cambodia to strengthen inclusive social protection for apparel industry employees.

The Royal Government of Cambodia has strongly committed to social protection. The government has recently initiated several social protection schemes, National Social Security Fund (NSSF) in particular, which greatly benefit apparel industry employees. Through this scheme, NSSF reported that in 2020 alone a total of 80,000 female garment workers received maternity allowances from the government which accounted for US$7.9 million. The National Social Protection Council (NSPC) also reported that approximately 300,000 female workers both in formal and informal sectors, who have given birth in the past four years, between January 2018 to March 2022 benefited from cash support which accounts for US$30.1 million. And at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic in Cambodia, workers who were laid-off also received support in the forms of cash-based transfer programmes. And a total of at least 560,000 households with an IDPoor card benefited from this scheme in 2020 alone.

Building on these efforts to address social inequality, INSPIRE and partners will help to further leverage the NSSF and address the remaining barriers to social protection among apparel industry employees, particularly contract workers. These include limited access to information about social protection schemes and benefits, lack of compliance among apparel industry employers, and the quality of services provided and available to apparel industry workers.

Ms Sophoan Phean, National Director of Oxfam in Cambodia, said: “Oxfam is committed to working with and supporting Royal Government of Cambodia and stakeholders to reduce poverty and inequality amongst apparel industry employees especially those who are in the informal arrangements, the majority of them women, by enhancing their access to inclusive social protection. Having access to social protection is critical for them and their households, as it helps sustain their well-being, build resilience, and reduce risk of global shocks or pandemic.”

Jill Tucker, Head of Labour Rights Programme of Laudes Foundation, said: “Contributory social security schemes like the NSSF strengthen the social contract and provide a basis for workers to demand support and protection when they experience illness, workplace injuries or economic shocks. Fulfilling this promise hinges in part on workers’ voices being better represented and reflected in policy discussions. Through collaboration with Oxfam on the INSPIRE initiative, we believe apparel industry workers in Cambodia will be able to access the benefits they are entitled to under the NSSF.”

Ms. Sophoan Phean, Oxfam National Director, during a remarks at the kick-off workshop of Inclusive National Social Protection Initiatives That Respond to The Needs of Apparel Industry Employees today, 23 March 2022. Photo: CENTRAL

Media plays important role promoting public awareness

The project launching workshop had attracted significant media coverage which helped inform the public and policy makers on the importance of inclusive social protection. INSPIRE was covered in well established local-run English newspapers such as the Phnom Penh Post, the Khmer Times, Cambodia News Service, and Cambodia News Watch. It was also reported in local language newspapers and media outlets such as PNN News, Rasmei Kampuchea Daily Newspaper, and the Fresh News. The event was also covered by Cambodia’s Ministry of Information. More importantly, it was covered by regional media outlets and bloggers such as JUST STYLE, FIBRE2FASHION, ECOTEXTILE, YARNSANDFIBERS, MGO News, US News Center, Community 99, and Voice of Time. These coverages have informed not only the Cambodian public and policy makers, but also the international community and branding companies on the challenges of accessing to and the need of inclusive social protection for apparel industry employees in Cambodia and elsewhere.

How was this endeavour developed?

INSPIRE was developed by several consultation meetings and workshops with partners and representatives of apparel industry employees. More importantly, it was informed by a research study entitled, “Social Protection For The Apparel Industry in Cambodia: Gaps and Opportunities”, which was jointly commissioned by Oxfam and Laudes Foundation. The concept note and project intervention were then consulted amongst local experts and those across Oxfam affiliates. These have demonstrated Oxfam’s commitment to inclusiveness, participatory approach, and local ownership where beneficiaries and partners have a fairsay and that their inputs were integrated into the project intervention, on top of research finding and recommendation.

 

How INSPIRE supports implementing and strategic partners?

“Inclusive National Social Protection Initiatives that Respond to the Needs of Apparel Industry Employees” (INSPIRE) is a collaborative effort between Oxfam and Laudes Foundation along with four implementing partners.

This endeavour will be jointly implemented by four local NGO and trade unions, such as Centre for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), and Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU).

We will also be working closely with several strategic partners, such as National Social Protection Council (NSPC), National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoLVT), The Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF), Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA), international brand companies and apparel industry employers, and other stakeholders to strengthen and safeguard inclusive social protection for apparel industry employees across the Kingdom.

The primary objective of INSPIRE is to contribute to poverty and inequality reduction efforts in Cambodia through the strengthening social protection system. This project will strategically contribute to positive improvement of coverage of and access to gender transformative social protection for apparel industry workers. INSPIRE will strengthen the capacity of trade unions to better represent and negotiate workers’ social protection needs and entitlements. They will also be supported to influence social protection policy outcomes through their meaningful participation in multi-stakeholder dialogues and decision-making meetings at national level, tripartite dialogues, and Oxfam’s existing social protection for all (SP4ALL) platform.

What benefits this initiative bring to apparel industry employees?

This initiative will enable apparel industry workers across 12 provinces and two municipalities to better access to social protections schemes and benefits, information, and to uphold service providers more accountable. It will also support the Royal Government of Cambodia to integrate gender transformative social protection approach into its social protection policy intervention.

Through the intervention of this project, apparel industry workers and their households will be able to reduce their vulnerability by having better access to the National Social Security Fund and other social protection schemes. It is expected to benefit a total of 23,000 individuals directly and 735,000 indirectly. More importantly, it is anticipated that approximately 1,000,000 individuals will be sensitised by public awareness campaigns, position papers, evidence-based research, and other communication activities of the project.


Kick-off workshop of Inclusive National Social Protection Initiatives That Respond to The Needs of Apparel Industry Employees. Photo: CENTRAL