If you live in Cambodia, then you’ve probably seen factory workers packed like sardines in trucks as they travel to and from work. It doesn’t look safe and it certainl​y isn’t. In fact, their commutes to and from work are a daily dice with death.

In Cambodia, the garment and footwear industry provides employment opportunities for close to 1 million workers, most of them young women. However, those opportunities come at a cost as factory workers regularly face life-threatening dangers when commuting to and from work every day.

Since 2017, we – at the nonprofit AIP Foundation – have focused on efforts to improve road safety conditions for workers, especially those in the garment and footwear sectors. This has been achieved by supporting our partners – the Cambodian government, factories and trade unions, nonprofits and private donors – to implement a series of activities and encouraging the participation of all key stakeholders to unite to improve workers’ commuting safety.

According to data collected by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), there are about 2,989 vehicles used to transport more than 270,000 workers to and from factories every day. Most of these are flat-bed trucks that are not equipped with any safety features, leaving workers vulnerable to the risks of serious injury and even death on the roads. These deaths are preventable, prompting urgent action to tackle the issue of safe mobility rights on the commute to and from work.

In addition, a research commissioned by AIP Foundation revealed that only 38 per cent of these vehicles are safe to commute passengers, about 30 per cent are not registered and only seven per cent are insured. It is also safe to say that many of these vehicles do not adhere to roadworthiness and are often unsafe to be transporting people on the roads.

To put the situation into perspective, figures from the NSSF show that in 2022, there were 3,275 road crashes among garment and footwear factory workers when commuting to and from work, with 4,056 victims countrywide. Of these, there were 63 deaths, 854 serious and 3,139 minor injuries. Many of those who are injured have to remain in hospital and take time off work for months, meaning they cannot earn income to support their family. Others are left living with disabilities as a result of these road crashes and are unable to return to work. By using safe means of transport, the majority of these situations could have been avoided.

As part of our programmes in Cambodia, we have been working together with various stakeholders, including trade unions, factories and state institutions at national and sub-national levels to roll out various measures to encourage safe commuting to and from work and deliver road safety awareness and training.

These activities are directly linked to the Second Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030 with the target to reduce 50 per cent of road injuries and fatalities by 50 per cent by 2030. Under this theme, as the country director for AIP Foundation Cambodia, I was proud to share the Global Plan (which sets out specific ways to tackle the global road safety crisis) to the NSSF and the General Secretariat of the National Road Safety Committee (NRSC) in October 2021. In turn, the NSSF and the NRSC General Secretariat agreed to work closely with AIP Foundation and other stakeholders to increase joint actions to promote the transition from trucks to safer vehicles.

Stakeholders in factories, trade unions and representatives of workers and drivers were also provided with training and information sessions. Another initiative targeted drivers to encourage them to transition from goods trucks to safer passenger vehicles. We have also held multiple workshops with key stakeholders to push for policy change, raise awareness and encourage additional investment including on providing safer transportation modes for workers. Last year saw us train 61,506 garment and footwear factory employees in total, and facilitate safer commute conditions for at least 25,748 Cambodian workers, according to AIP Impact Report 2022.

Despite Cambodia’s steady economic growth, the garment and footwear industry still faces challenges related to worker safety and labour rights. However, the industry remains a significant contributor to the country’s economy, accounting for approximately 80 per cent of the country’s total exports.

AIP Foundation’s efforts to improve road safety conditions for workers have been successful in improving commuting conditions. However, there is still much more work to be done. The milestones achieved so far could not have been possible without the support and engagement of partners, the community, businesses, other stakeholders, and brands and buyers who yield the most influence on decision-making in factories.

It is these strong collaborations that AIP Foundation hopes to strengthen to continue to drive positive changes, ultimately saving the lives and livelihoods of the country’s garment and footwear workers while contributing to Cambodia’s economic growth.

Together, we can speak up to save lives!

Kim Pagna is Cambodia country director of the AIP Foundation.

The views expressed are his own.