Cambodia will host a beauty contest with a difference. As the Ministry of Labour is bringing back a beauty pageant for garment workers, which unions and commentators have deemed ‘regressive’ distraction from deep-seeded inequalities in the sector. The government has teamed up with the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and PNN TV for the pageant, which last year saw entrants compete for a first-place prize of $300 – more than double the $140 monthly minimum wage of a garment worker. The participants will be workers in the garment industry. Women have to be at least 1.58 meters tall and men have to be 1.62 meters. The contest aims to serve as effective advertising for the garment industry and to give women a chance to show off their beauty in public.
There are criticisms the focus should be on paying workers above the minimum wage, adjusting long hours, and improving safety in hot, crowded factories. The argument is that merely because there are a lot of women workers applying for it, that doesn’t mean they support it. It just means they want to earn money any way possible. The only contest that should be conducted for the dignity of garment workers is for brands to compete on the wages of workers. So it should be a competition on who gives workers a living wage rather than a beauty contest which is plain regressive and undignified.
But some women are looking forward to it. They feel this is a good chance for garment workers to compete on TV and to speak out on a national platform about life in a garment factory so the public can know about their lives and struggles.