Cambodia is a tropical country with dense forestation, and many rice paddies well irrigated by the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap. The legacy of civil war and conflict following the Khmer Rouge regime still bear an impact on the country, where unexploded remnants of war continue to kill and injure civilians and destroy livelihoods.

The population of 14 million (2010) is young - over half are aged under 25 years. Economic growth is strong, with GDP growth rates of over ten per cent in the mid-2000s. Growth was driven by the garment sector, construction, agriculture and tourism, all of which were hard hit by the global financial crisis causing many job losses. The economy picked up in 2010 as commodity prices and exports increased.

Cambodia has made substantial progress in poverty reduction, more children attend school and HIV prevalence has decreased. Child malnutrition decreased, although progress was slowed by the economic crisis and high food prices. At the same time, maternal mortality remains high.

Decent work and labour market issues

Poverty reduction and sustainable development are the foremost priorities of the Government and job creation is a central facet of national planning.

Over the last decade, the labour market has undergone a structural transition with many jobs shifting from agriculture to manufacturing.

Despite success in poverty reduction, almost a third of people live below the poverty line, with much higher rates in rural areas. Some 85 per cent of people work in the informal economy, mainly in agriculture, forestry and fishing and in small and micro enterprises.

The formal sectors of tourism and garments drive growth and employ large numbers of women. Over 90 per cent of workers in garment manufacturing are women.

The government is showing strong political leadership to promote good governance and Cambodia has ratified the six main international human rights treaties. However there are concerns that the economic crisis will undermine implementation of the labour code and labour standards, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

Social protection is being extended through safety net programmes, however the poorest often lack access to quality services and a safety net.

Child labour remains a significant challenge. An estimated 45 per cent of five to 14-year olds were economically active in 2001.

Decent work into national policies

The Rectangular Strategy for Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency Phase I (2003-2008) and (Phase II) set out the government’s development priorities and strategy for meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

Four priority programme areas are in place: 1) Promotion of the agricultural sector; 2) Continued rehabilitation and construction of physical infrastructure; 3) Private sector growth and employment development; 4) Capacity building and human resource development.

The National Growth Strategy and its action plan subtitled “For Growth, Employment, Equity and Efficiency to Reach Cambodia Millennium Development Goals” lay the foundation for reaching the Millennium Development Goals and channels focus for relevant policy including national plans for poverty, food security and rural development. The growth strategy aims to 1) promote human capacity and respect for rights; 2) promote economic opportunity and 3) to establish a social safety net.

The Government, Trade Unions and Employers’ Organizations in cooperation with the ILO have designed a Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) which focuses on:
  1. Skills development for productive employment;
  2. Labour governance and rights;
  3. Social protection for targeted groups.
These DWCP priorities also contribute towards the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF).

National partners 


Further reading

Cambodia: Decent Work Country Programme (2008-2010)
United Nations Development Assistance Framework Cambodia (2006-2010)
Achieving Cambodia’s Millennium Development Goals: Update 2010
The Rectangular strategy for growth, employment, equality and efficiency in Cambodia
The Rectangular strategy for growth, employment, equity and efficiency phase II
The National Strategic Development Framework 2006-2010
The National Strategic Development Framework 20011-2015
World Bank. 2011. Cambodia: Data and Statistics