While the garment sector serves as Cambodia’s economic backbone and creates much-needed jobs, it is also a highly polluting industry, alongside being regularly implicated for not upholding labour rights. The sector emits pollutants to air from intensive energy use, solid and hazardous waste emissions, noise pollution and wastewater pollution discharge. Despite this, the sector’s environmental impacts in Cambodia, particularly in relation to air pollution, are not well known, and this gap was highlighted in the development of Cambodia’s 2021 Clean Air Plan.

Aiming to fill this gap, in cooperation with SEI, the Air Quality and Noise Management Department of the General Directorate of Environmental Protection of Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment conducted a research project to improve understanding of air pollutant emissions from the textile industry and the health impacts on workers in Cambodia’s garment industry. The study drew on in-depth interviews with 323 garment factory workers across 16 factories, interviews with 16 factory owners, and quantitative data to better understand all interviewees’ experiences with occupational air pollution.

While the research documented any symptoms related to air pollution, it did not employ medical research to assess the workers’ health status, nor did it attempt to investigate the cost or impact of air pollution on factory production. This policy briefing draws on a longer report prepared by the Ministry of Environment (Chandath, H., Chhay Por, I., Sokyimeng, S., Dana, S., Raksmey, Y. 2023. Understanding Air Pollution in the Garment Sector and Health Impacts on Workers: A Cambodian Case Study. Ministry of Environment, Cambodia. https://epa.moe.gov.kh/pages/categories/view/document-daqnm ).

A worker in a garment factory; Courtesy of Chandath Him

IMAGE: Courtesy of Chandath Him