My name is Van Piseth. Van means “gold” and Piseth was the name of my grandfather. Like the other bloggers the oldest person I can remember in my family is my grandmother – she was a very kind woman, she did such a good job of taking care of me when I was a kid.
I grew up in Kampot province and stayed in school until I was 17 years old. I studied until I became a soldier, studying all the time! I decided to become a soldier because I believed in the idea of justice but I knew nothing of the reality until I arrived. Then I saw what it was really like. I saw the real life of a soldier. I saw the mines exploding, I saw people losing their limbs. I saw the wives and children of the men, who had been rounded up to fight, searching for them after they had been injured or killed. We were alone, with no support from the Cambodian government. I was a soldier for 2 years.
Now, I work with my brother in a garment factory called New Orient. I have a wife and two daughters. My daughters are 6 years old and 3 months old – there is much to do to take care of them! My wife and I spend a lot of time to care for our youngest daughter and I enjoy taking my oldest daughter to school and teaching her some things at home.
The most beautiful place I’ve ever visited is the forest in Preah Vihear. I went there when I was a soldier. There were trees that were as tall as mountains. The beach at Sihanoukville and the Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap are beautiful but I think the forest is number one.
I like football and I play it for fun. I’ll watch the World Cup but just at home on our TV. I like it because it’s not about money it is about pride of the country. My favorite players are the famous ones, like Ronaldo and David Beckham.
We live in an urban neighbourhood and it is very loud, noisy, dirty, smelly and dusty! There is so much trash and it is never collected and there is a traffic jam all the time. I have been here since the year 2000 and it just keeps growing – more and more and more factories. Everyone here is a factory worker. There are maybe 300,000 people that live and work around here and I’d say 90% work in factories. The economic zone is huge. In just one part of the zone there are 49 buildings with between 400 to 1,000 workers in each building. We rent small rooms inside the factory.
At New Orient we make Adidas sport shirts and sport jackets. There are many departments with different processes like cutting, sewing, finishing, quality control, packing and storage. I can make around $140 per month. To supplement my income I had to start a small business. The profits from this business vary but the expenses are a lot. So I spend a lot of money on communication – around $45 per month. Schooling is also expensive for my daughter and we need to meet the rent and have enough food to eat. Workers never have enough money to live well.
At the factory I have many friends. Workers are split into production lines and it is difficult for us to mix amongst each other as we aren’t allowed out of the line, but in our production lines we are close – always making jokes with each other. I like my colleagues because we’re straight up with each other.
Before, life at New Orient was really terrible, it was too hot, there was too much overtime and the building was old and unsafe. Violations of people’s rights happened all the time but we have seen some improvement since Adidas arrived. When I started out as a union representative the factory tried to buy me off. They offered thousands of dollars but I refused. It is still like this sometimes and we need to fight hard to make sure the conditions for people are legal but now we often get a positive solution. But not on wage.
Life was extremely stressful during the strike in January 2014. Workers were shot dead just near our factory. I saw it with my own eyes. I saw the workers dying. It was unbelievable. I ran to the scene to help and take photos. The bullets were flying past my head. I cannot understand why the government would do this. The workers have only their hands but the police have guns and used them to kill workers. Why would the government kill its own people just for asking for a wage increase?
It seems like the government thinks we are nothing, useless people. It is such a huge problem that the foreign investment in Cambodia never makes it to the people. Many people think I’m crazy but I know this problem can be solved. I know if we stand together we will see the lives of the people improve. I want to see change, to see the economic situation improve – just simply for people that work hard to see real benefits for that hard work. It is not a lot to ask.The worst future would be for things to continue as they are.
We are starting to see people stand up for themselves. Many workers are still afraid but those that I work with, those in our union, they are not afraid to stand up and demand what they are entitled to. Workers and the poor have always been looked down on by people in positions of power and those with lots of money, and the police. Now we are starting to speak up. I am willing. When I raise my voice to these people, some people tell me not to do it but many around me are now in support.
I would like to tell people reading this blog that we have seen some improvements since Adidas came to the factory, which is good, but they need to take the lead and provide their workers with a wage that we can survive on. Right now the wage is only $100 per month. Adidas need to take responsibility, at least, for their own workers – the ones that make their products. And I know they can do this. They can increase the wage in their supply chain, up to $130, $140, $160 per month. They have the ability. And in turn the workers will follow Adidas with their whole hearts. They will strive to make Adidas and the businesses more successful, work productively with their whole hearts. I believe that Adidas can change the industry. They can set the example for all companies here – even the small companies and the small investors. Companies, people and workers will follow them.