Soieries du Mékong empowers women in Cambodia by offering them sustainable employment and developing their hand-weaving knowledge and skill.
An approved ‘social enterprise’, Soieries du Mékong empowers women in Cambodia by offering them sustainable employment and developing their hand-weaving knowledge and skill.
Soieries du Mékong is also innovative in terms of its structure and governance: the enterprise is a Joint Stock Company with Variable Capital (JSCVC) and, in accordance with a clause contained in its Articles of Association, its principal shareholder is the NGO Enfants du Mékong. This organisation therefore continues to ensure that the enterprise maintains the original philosophy of the project.
Soieries du Mékong focuses its action on women living in rural poverty in Cambodia, the social enterprise having arisen out of the following observations:
92% of Cambodians below the national poverty line live in rural areas.(1) Women constitute the majority of poor people in Cambodia.(2) They represent 82% of the workforce in the informal sector: they are often poorly paid and are neither recognised nor protected.(3)
Among women in active employment, 75% work in the farming sector. These jobs are seasonal, often for just a few months a year, and are subject to the unpredictability of the weather. (4) Soieries du Mékong helps women get into work by developing traditional craft skills and know-how. The women become weavers and this work helps them meet the essential needs of their families.
Our production unit is based in Banteay Chmar, an extremely remote village in north-west Cambodia with no access to water. Since 2014, households there have gradually been connected to the electricity supply. A former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, Banteay Chmar is a poor village close to the Thai border. Many women cross illegally into Thailand in the hope of a better life, but very often find themselves exploited in textile factories with scant regard for employment rights.
Soieries du Mékong emerged from a desire to develop skills and know-how in rural areas and to offer women sustainable employment, so that their families could remain in their home areas. Our action is focused on developing and passing on a skilful, time-honoured craft in Cambodia, namely weaving silk by hand on traditional looms.
In practice, Soieries du Mékong first selects young women over 18 years of age based on their motivation and income.
Six months’ training in weaving are followed by six months’ practical placement. At the same time, the young apprentices take classes in Khmer and mathematics to equip them with the basics they have often missed out on.
Once the training cycle is complete, the weavers work from home as independent artisans using looms lent by Soieries du Mékong.
Soieries du Mékong undertakes to
- Offer its artisans work throughout the year,
- Pay them according to fair terms and conditions (salary above the village average),
- Reimburse 80% of their medical expenses,
- Provide training in financial affairs,
Since 2001, more than 90 weavers have been trained and supported by Soieries du Mékong and almost 70 people now work at Soieries du Mékong Cambodia.
Enfants du Mékong
L'ESSEC et les Fondations Rothschild
Fondation d'Entreprise Hermès
Conseil Général des Hauts-de-Seine
ESSEC and the Rothschild Foundations
(1) Report Achieving Cambodia’s Millennium Development Goals – Update 2010, Ministry of Planning
(2) UN Women Report
(3) Gender Mainstreaming Action Plan, Ministry of Economy and Finance, 2008; UNDP, Key facts about gender equality in Cambodia, http://www.un.org.kh/undp/what-we-do/gender-equality
(4) Human Development Report 2011 – Ministry of Environment