My name is Sokhan Chroeng, I’m 27 and I was named after my grandfather. The name means sweet desert. I grew up in a rural village in Kandal Province, the same as many Cambodians.
My first memories are of my grandmother, she was very kind and sweet. She always took me on walks to see different things and fed me – she constantly offered up food and biscuits. My father was a fisherman and my mother took care of the house and the children. I don’t have a wife or kids yet but I hope to one day. Before me, none of my family had worked in the garment industry and my very first job was selling soya juice.
I moved to a different province eight or nine years ago and back then life was quite simple. It is still rural but things have changed a lot. When I first arrived here there was only one factory. Today there are more houses, more buildings, more roads and many more people. I suppose people have more money now but most of that income has come from selling off land. Hardly anyone has land anymore, it has been bought up by businesses. I say almost everyone here works in a factory.
I’ve heard of the World Cup, I used to play football as a kid but I don’t have time anymore or a crew to play with. I won’t watch any World Cup matches because I don’t really know any of the teams and I don’t have a TV – the coffee shop does but they only play movies. On my day off, which is Sunday, I’ll hang out with my sisters and brothers. We only get Sundays to spend together and so we just like to relax at home.
Six days a week I wake up at 5.30 am, take a shower, eat breakfast and head for work at Bowker Factory for 7 am. I work until 4 pm if we are not on a tight deadline but if there is overtime, I don’t finish until around 6 pm. My job is to cut out the fabric for the tops and trousers and my department is one of many. Once I’ve cut the fabric it’s sent on to the warehouse to be sewn and ends up in the finishing department before heading for shops in the UK, Europe and America.
Work is very difficult. I don’t earn enough to live easily and I’m always under pressure. Although work officially ends at 4pm there is often overtime and despite it being optional you will get a serious warning if you can’t do it and if you refuse more than a couple of times you will lose your job. When I get sick, I need a doctor’s certificate to get time off work and there is no guarantee that I’ll get it. If it’s for more than two days then I have to go back to work regardless of how ill I am.
We tried to form a union at the factory to challenge all this but four of us lost our jobs because it. For me it was because I’d told other workers to go on strike. We were striking to demand the government increase the minimum wage to $160 a month and although 1000 people joined in support, I was fired. We fought hard and have now been reinstated but they’ve given us new, more difficult jobs, far away from everyone else. I’m in the cutting department and we have to load and unload heavy boxes of ironing equipment. They also try to limit the number of hours we work so that we don’t have enough to live on. We don’t get to work the overtime hours that we need to work to survive. This is punishment for trying to improve our lives.
Right now I can earn about $120 or $130 a month. Sometimes if I manage to work a lot of overtime I can get $170, but with 10 people in my family and living in our house we need $500 a month for just food. Life is expensive and I am rarely able to save. There’s regular costs like food, rent, phone top up and petrol but there’s also the celebrations and funerals which are harder to plan and pay for.
What’s good about work is the people. All of the workers here are friendly and we love and try to look after each other. I am closest to a guy called Bunthoen and he’s great. He’s president of the union and has such a good heart – he looks out for all of us here. The thing I’m most proud of in life is becoming Vice President of the factory union – it’s the best thing I’ve done and I’m hopeful that there is a better future for us. The big issues we need to fight are on wage and the use of short-term contracts as they keep us very insecure.
I can see two paths for my future. If I keep working hard with the union then I will become one of the good people struggling to improve conditions for garment workers and our society. I’m fearful that if I were to stop I would lead a useless life and the suffering will continue and because that’s what I’m scared of I won’t stop. I want a wife and a family and I need to fight to make sure we can have a decent life.
I want to tell Adidas and it’s supplier factories not to put pressure on workers or suppress workers’ rights. We deserve fair treatment and to have our rights under the laws of this country respected.