What is the average income in Cambodia

Seamstresses in CambodiaThe high price of the cheap t-shirts

Hundreds of women close together in a huge corrugated iron hall near Phnom Penh. They tailor the T-shirts and shorts that we buy at bargain prices in textile chains and boutiques in the rich West. Like 34-year-old So Peh.

"It's incredibly hot in the production hall. The fans are not enough. Of course you can go to the bathroom every now and then, but you have to hurry. If you go too often, the foreman scolds."

Production for brand manufacturers

160 euros a month for 60 hours of work - that's not a lot even in poor Cambodia. From Monday to Saturday, So Peh's mother takes care of the two sons of the divorced seamstresses. The family lives in a small hut in a suburb of the Cambodian capital. Five people have to live on So Peh's income, mostly there is only rice - there is not enough money for fish and meat, says So Peh's mother.

"It's hard. My daughter no longer has a husband who earns money. She has to look after us with her small salary. If someone gets sick, we have to save on food in order to be able to pay the doctor."

The sewing shop in which So Peh works produces for many brand manufacturers. The EU is the world's largest consumer of textiles in Cambodia - one of the poorest countries in the world. Reports of inhumane working conditions in factories have put pressure on producers. Occupational safety has been improved; respiratory masks, for example, are now standard. The wages have also increased - but the seamstresses don't benefit from that, says So Peh: "When fashion companies build up pressure and we then get wage increases like last year, that has its price. From my team of 30 seamstresses five were laid off and we others now have to do the same number of pieces in eight hours instead of ten.

Ten hour shift in the sewing shop

Starvation wages, piecework, breakdowns. Almost half of women suffer from anemia, a sign of vitamin deficiency, according to a study. One fifth is underweight. Officially, the standards have improved - says Yung Leap of the Seamstress Union - but that is window dressing:

"Unfortunately, Cambodia's health and safety laws are not being implemented. Two hours of overtime are allowed, but four are almost standard. Most women only have short-term contracts, so they constantly live in fear of losing their jobs, the companies keep them small."

After the ten-hour shift in the sewing shop, Soh Peh works another three hours as a temporary worker in a beer garden, which brings in another 43 euros a month. Most of the time she sleeps there too, because at six in the morning the sewing shop's minibus picks her up again.

"I miss my boys a lot, but I have to do this so they can go to school. I'm so tired, but I have no choice."