Bicycles: Not So Holy

Under the Wheels: Cyclists are certain they occupy the moral high ground. But few are aware that workers in Cambodia are exploited to produce their bicycles. We met with them.

“I’ve been working at the factory for five years, but I’m always given six-month contracts,” says Sok, a wiry man in his late 20s. He’s a welder at the A&J factory, which is one of the three largest in Bavet, alongside those operated by Smart Tech and Speedtech. Along with two dozen co-workers, Sok welds pre-cut aluminum tubes into bicycle frames. “The worst thing is the constant pressure of the production targets,” he says. His team is required to assemble 50 frames per hour, which, he says, simply isn’t possible with complicated designs. “If we only finish 30 frames, then we still owe the factory 20,” he says. His team then has to catch up by taking fewer breaks, and yet it’s often still not possible to make up the backlog. “We’re constantly lagging behind and don’t even have time to go to the bathroom. You are worked to the point of total exhaustion,” says Sok. A&J only provides its workers with a 50-minute lunch break, Sok says, adding that it’s often unbearably hot under the corrugated iron roofs and that there isn’t enough clean drinking water.

I can’t speak to the working conditions of Chinese Alt-Wheels factories. But I’ve seen photos and videos. The daily output seems to be too low to lead to the conditions that are chronic in the Cambodian bike factories. Plus, China has plenty of national holidays and it’s unthinkable — to me, at least — that any factory wouldn’t honor those days.

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