My Pajamas Were In Cambodia
I love Cambodia. I adore the temples at Angkor Wat. Buddhist monks in orange robes wind through stone Khmer complexes. And I like Phnom Penh, but it’s impossible not to see that the country is poor. People waited outside my hotel at the dumpster to pick through tourist trash. There are roads in the city that aren’t paved, and there are many more motorcycles than there are cars.
I wasn’t in Cambodia with my pajamas. They were there without me. They were sewn there. By a woman. In a garment factory. More than 295,000 people are employed in the factories, subcontractors for familiar brand names. Levis are made in Cambodia. And clothes for The Gap, Old Navy, Ann Taylor.
Based on some statistics from the Asian Development Bank, I’d estimate that the cost of making my pajamas in Cambodia was about $8.51.
Here’s how I broke it down:
Materials (flannel, thread, buttons, elastic) $5.53 45%
Labor $1.28 15%
Overhead (factory space, utilities) $1.53 18%
Profit $0.18 2%
An entry level worker makes $45 a month, which, in truth, isn’t bad compared with China or Vietnam. That's $2.25 a day if they're working 5 days a week. They may be working 6. It’s enough for a couple of people to live decently in Phnom Penh. More than the average per capita income which is $380 a year. Most of the garment workers are women. Many who migrated from rural areas to find work. Most have only a primary school education. For every 3 boys that go to secondary school, only one girl goes. There aren’t a lot of job options. Agriculture. The sex industry. The factories.
In school and at home, each of these women learned how to behave through a traditional code of conduct–Srey Chbab. They learned to be quiet. And sweet. And submissive. To be at home when not at school or work. To focus on their husband and their children. When Srey Chbab extends into factories, women become silent about demanding their rights and about reporting abuses.
Sometimes I just like to think about where my clothes came from.