Now with the global recession slowing down demand for clothes, many jobs in Cambodia are being lost. Some factories are shutting down while owing their workers back pay.
From this exaustive Reuters story on textiles in Cambodia, writer Ek Madra shows us the impact on the nations poverty line.
The sector represents about 16 percent of Cambodia's GDP, so the factory closures will hurt, with a ripple effect in the countryside as the money sent home by garment workers dries up.
The International Monetary Fund says the economy could shrink 0.5 percent in 2009 and the garment trade slump is a big factor.
But Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodian Institute of Development Study (CIDS), said even if the double-digit growth of recent years was out of reach, 4 or 5 percent may be possible thanks to a bountiful rice crop in 2008/09 and the record $950 million in aid pledged by international donors for 2009.
"Cambodia could use the aid of nearly $1 billon to invest in infrastructures to stimulate its economy," Chandararot said.
People surviving on less than $1 a day are deemed to be living in poverty. Garment workers earn on average $2.7 a day so the loss of these jobs will hurt.
"More people will be pushed into poverty," said Huot Chea of the World Bank in Cambodia.
Historical data is lacking in Cambodia, but the World Bank says 45 to 50 percent of the people lived in poverty in 1994. Prime Minister Hun Sen says that was cut to 30 percent by 2008 thanks to the garment sector, tourism and agriculture.