From the time Rida was young, she wanted to follow her father’s path. She remembers that her father, who worked in the development sector at the beginning of the modern Cambodian government, would return from different provinces, telling stories of how he helped Cambodians who were struggling to rebuild their careers and lives. When Rida was hired to work for Better Factories Cambodia, she felt she was doing the same kind of service as her father did, but for a different era
“At a very young age, I wanted to be like my father, I wanted to share my knowledge to the people, I wanted to give positive impact to them,” she said. “That was on my mind until I started working here … when I started working here, I felt this was the place that I wanted to work. Better Factories Cambodia is the place where I can grow and help to improve working conditions for many people.”
Rida started as a secretary in 2014, but she has steadily climbed into different roles throughout Better Factories Cambodia. The Better Factories Cambodia team has become like her family, she said, providing support and advice. Along the way, she’s come to know more workers, factory management and other stakeholders, and Rida says she’s started to understand more about their needs and desires, and therefore can better understand and incorporate these outcomes in the advice and dispute resolution tactics she offers.
“We already know we have an impact from BFC to the industry,” she said, but for Rida, it’s truly rewarding to witness the garment workers’ growth. “It touches my heart.”
She’s also noticed impacts in the factories, ranging from increased knowledge and awareness of safety measures to more constructive social dialogue. But she’s honored to have consulted some major issues for some workers. Rida once found out that a factory she advised in Phnom Penh had for years required workers to work four hours overtime per day, while Cambodian law limited overtime to two hours on top of standard 8-hour shifts. She learned the workers had been covering up this noncompliance issue out of fear of losing jobs, filling out a false entry and exit times on their stamp sheet.
After persistently meeting and coaching the bipartite committee for advisory, they eventually decided to raise their frustrations with the illegally long shifts to Rida.
“When they know about the law, they trust us, they communicate, they share concerns and they speak up,” she said. “They are aware the changes start from them. It’s not from me or others, the changes start from them. If they don’t speak up and they don’t communicate, how can the others help them?” Rida says she revels in the chance to empower workers. “When they trust us, we encourage them to move onto new roles, and to speak up, so this is what I’m fascinated with: giving the trust to them. I tell them to keep communicating their situation if they want things to happen. If you keep silent then who will raise it up? If you do not do it now, when will things change?”
Better Factories Cambodia cannot force the factory to change; instead Rida raised the issue multiple times with management, realizing the strength in soft power in cases like this.
“I can give guidance to the factories but not force them – I just give them the guidance, pointing out what are the negative impacts if things keep coming up,” she said. “After that intervention, I received a message from workers. They said all the workers in the factory say thanks to you our factory is now complying with the law,” she recalls. It’s not easy to push a factory to make a change that will cost them time and money, while workers sometimes want changes that factories cannot provide. From Rida’s perspective, improving Cambodia’s garment sector is a team effort.
“We together can make bigger changes in Cambodia’s garment industry,” she said. “Better Factories Cambodia alone cannot make these changes. I believe that Better Factories Cambodia and other stakeholders can hold their hands together and make a change.”