Foreign Policy Magazine

Closing the Factory Doors

For two centuries, countries have used low-wage labor to climb out of poverty. What will happen when robots take those jobs?

CHEA LEAKHENA AND OU THYDA were in their late teens when they began working in Canadia Industrial Park, on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, stitching T-shirts and jeans for global brands including Adidas, Puma, Gap, and H&M.

The two women hailed from the same tiny village in rural Prey Veng province, a three-hour bus ride away. Back home, Chea Leakhena’s wages from the factory had funded the installation of a new solar panel, providing enough electricity for the family’s first small TV and two fans. Several other dwellings in the village had similar additions, all paid for the same way. The factory workers risked injury, harassment, and violence, but the women’s relatives in the village praised them as go-getters who had ventured far from

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