The Conscience of Clothing

A documentary web series about the textile and clothing industry in Cambodia

Three thousand people, the majority women, and therefore one fifth of the population of Cambodia, work daily to produce textiles and clothing for the global market. Their work makes up 70% of all exports from the country. In December 2019, filmmaker Patrick Kohl, influencer Willy Iffland, and journalist Helen Fares spent several weeks in Cambodia. They learned onsite what the textile industry means in Cambodia, which changes the people there are striving for, as well as how they are organizing to achieve them.

The Conscience of Clothing is a documentary film project, funded by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, that will come out in 2020. Until the that time, the project’s trajectory can be followed on  Facebook and Instagram.

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The oversupply of clothing, especially in Western countries, and the omnipresence of advertising seem to make us forget what the world behind the glittering facade of fast fashion looks like: the industry emits enormous amounts of CO2, highly toxic chemicals are used, and vast amounts of raw materials are extracted from the environment. However, it’s not only the environment and the climate that suffer from the fast fashion model. Workers in the big production factories are exploited for wages far below the basic subsistence level and mostly work in precarious conditions. They are often exposed to resistance to their attempts at organization for better working conditions and are always in a weak negotiating position.

Our documentary, The Conscience of Clothing, tells stories from the Cambodian textile industry. Due to the lack of a supply chain law, it is often impossible for workers to defend themselves against human rights violations at their workplaces and to sue for damages. For years, human rights organizations have drawn attention to precarious working conditions along the supply chains of the textile industry. However, there has not yet been a political breakthrough for a law that forces companies to respect human rights in their supply chains.

Additionally, broad social awareness raising of the conditions under which a large part of our clothing is produced has not yet been accomplished. The Conscience of Clothing wants to bring producers and consumers closer together. Therefore, we have brought the two influencers Willy Iffland and Helen Fares into conversation with Cambodian workers, factory owners, trade union activists, and other social actors. Willy and Helen share their impressions with their followers in our series. How will their time in Cambodia change them? How will the encounters influence their attitude towards clothing and consumption?

Country Profile: Cambodia

Cambodia is known in the region as Kampuchea - and officially as the Kingdom of Cambodia - and is a Southeast Asian country bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, by and Vietnam to the east. The climate is tropical and sometimes rainy. The Khmer (97.6%) are the ethnic majority, while the ethnic minorities include Cham (1.2%), Vietnamese (0.1%), Chinese (0.1%) and 30 different mountain peoples. Officially, 97 % of the population is Buddhist. Economically, the clothing and textile sector in Cambodia, which accounts for 68% of the country’s total exports (2017), plays a major role in economic growth. The US and EU countries in particular are among the main sales countries.

Independence day: 9. November 1953

Official language: Khmer

Other recognized languages: English, French

Capital: Phnom Penh

Political system: Parliamentary Election Monarchy

Area: 181.035km2

Population density: 90/km2 (Census 2019)

Total population: 15.288.489 (Census 2019)

Average age: 26 years (25 for men/27 for women)

Age Structure:
0-14 Years: 30.18%
15-24 Years: 17.28%
25-54 Years: 41.51%
55-64 Years: 6.44%
65+ Years: 4.59%

Minimum Wage: 190 $ (2020)

Estimated minimum wage for subsistence: 480 $ (2017)

Average income per month in the capital (Phnom Penh): 270 $ (2019)

Important economic sectors: agriculture (rice, rubber, corn, vegetables, cassava, silk), tourism, clothing and textiles, construction, rice milling, fishing, wood, rubber, cement, mining.

Employees in the textile sector: 700,000 employees (80% women


A few impressions from shooting the film...