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Cambodia to Vaccinate 500,000 Garment Workers by June

Two months after Cambodia rolled out its Covid-19 vaccination scheme, garment workers are now getting jabs in their arms.

The move is a rare bright spot for the Southeast Asian nation’s embattled $7 billion garment sector, which is the country’s largest employer and represents 16 percent of its gross domestic product.

Though Cambodia has had one of the world’s smallest coronavirus tolls, with fewer than 3,000 cases and 22 deaths, the industry has had to deal with the one-two punch of declining orders, coupled with what one insider dubbed “quite ridiculous payment terms,” and the partial withdrawal of European Union (EU) Everything But Arms privileges over alleged human and labor rights abuses.

Cambodia’s exports in clothes, footwear and travel goods fell 9 percent for the first 10 months of 2020, according to data from the General Department of Customs and Excise. Clothing imports to the U.S. for January and February slumped 14.08 percent to $451 million, the Office of Textiles and Apparel reported Wednesday. Meanwhile, exports to the EU, which are worth roughly $5.5 billion a year, crashed by nearly $1 billion in the first nine months of 2020.

The weather hasn’t been on Cambodia’s side, either. Last October, torrential floods damaged 79 factories and forced at least 40 of them to temporarily freeze operations. The country’s production landscape has shifted, too, with 100 factories shuttering as a result of pandemic-related factors and 221 new ones opening. At the end of 2020, the number of facilities totaled 1,853, providing employment for 900,000 workers, according to Secretary of State Heng Sokkong.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour told Reuters the government plans to pick up the pace of vaccinations to 1,000 to 1,200 a day at each injection location. Two have been established at the moment, with another 10 forthcoming. The Ministry of Labour, he added, has set up 60 teams with eight doctors per team.

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The government seeks to vaccinate 100,000 workers in April, 200,000 in May and another 200,000 in June, according to the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), the trade organization that represents the nation’s garment and footwear industries.

“We continue to strictly implement the safety procedure and speed up vaccination process at the fastest speed possible,” Kaing Monika, deputy secretary of the GMAC, told Reuters.

The news comes just as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and GMAC announced the rollout of a literacy program in 11 factories across seven provinces year to increase employee skills in the workplace.

The Factory Literacy Programme, which UNESCO developed by the Ministry of Education Youth and Sport, is designed to provide workers with functional literacy and numeracy skills to “help them cope with the day-to-day challenges of life.” Since its debut in 2016, the program has reached 2,063 workers across 12 provinces through 25 factories, UNESCO said, with an “impressive” 72 percent completion rate among participants.