Special Economic Zones

Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are spatially regulated areas wherein special administrative rules apply to create liberalised markets attractive to investment. In addition to tax reductions, these rules often involve the weakening of social, environmental, and labour protections. While SEZs across the Mekong are increasing employment opportunities and boosting investment figures, labour rights violations have been documented, including restrictions on freedom of assembly, association and expression, harassment, and degraded occupational health and safety standards.

Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone (Photo: MMN/ John Hulme)

MMN urges governments, investors, and regional development bodies to better protect workers’ rights in SEZs by monitoring working conditions; providing appropriate living wages, health insurance, and occupational health and safety measures; upholding workers’ rights to organise and access trade unions; providing training to upgrade workers’ skills; and facilitating the integration of migrant workers into local communities.

MMN has been studying the impact of SEZ development and rushed investment on labour and mobility since 2008, in light of changing migration trajectories as a result of anticipated job opportunities in SEZs, as well as the dependence of SEZ operations on cross-border migrant workers in border regions. MMN’s projects strive to document the lived experiences of migrants and their families, build the capacity of project partners to conduct research, and translate research findings into recommendations that advocate for the protection and promotion of the rights of migrants within these spaces.

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