Tough choices for Thai textile workers

As a major exporter of textiles, Thailand has been hit hard as global demand for clothing and footwear has dropped. Industry sources warn that the global financial crisis could cause Thailand to lose up to 1 million industrial jobs by mid-2009.

Dow Punpiputt, Communications Officer for Oxfam in Thailand, went to visit some women who had lost their jobs. This is her description of what she found:

The sun was setting when we arrived, painting the sky orange. A strong sense of abandonment and emptiness covered the compound. An empty canteen had clearly not been in use for a long time. A dusty ‘Happy New Year’ metallic ribbon banner swings over one of the abandoned food counters. A group of women was sitting in circle waiting for us.

One of the women pointed in the direction of a dilapidated block flats. "These used to house about 500 workers," she said. "Now there are only 65 people of us left, including 14 children."

These women used to work for a textile factory nearby.  The textile company owned the flat for workers, but most of them went home when they found out that the factory was closing. But even though their future is not certain, home is not an option for the women who remain.

"There's nothing back home," another of the women explained. "We have friends here. People in my hometown don't know who I am and I don't know them much either."

Although some of their families own land, many of the women here have been factory workers for over 20 years, and lack the knowledge and experience necessary to earn a living as an agricultural worker.

As another of the women, Benjawan Marongthong, adds, "My mother owns a plot of land where she used to plant sugarcane but now she's too old to do that. The land is flooded and there's no one to take care of it."

Many of the women finished only primary school education or lower. If they return back to the land they can only expect to find work laboring and expect to earn only 100 baht (less than $1.50USD) per day.

"If I go back to tend the land, I'll have to pay 100 baht a day to hire someone to take care of my child anyway."

Case study: the effects of the global financial crisis in Bangladesh