Livelihoods Built on Sand: Exposing the Precarity of Labour in Cambodia’s Sand Extraction Industry

Title: Livelihoods Built on Sand: Exposing the Precarity of Labour in Cambodia’s Sand Extraction Industry
Authors: van Arragon, Lukas
Date: 2021-07-23
Abstract: Although Cambodia banned sand exports in 2017, under-regulated sand extraction in rivers across the country continues, driven by demand from rapid urbanization and land reclamation around Phnom Penh. In the last decade, the sand extraction industry has come under intense scrutiny for its role in riverbank erosion and degradation of aquatic ecosystems, with some activists and scholars highlighting how this damages livelihoods and displaces rural Cambodians. At the same time, the sand boom in Cambodia has created a demand for labour, offering opportunities to rural Cambodians who have few other livelihood options in their home provinces. However, the vast majority of wealth from sand extraction does not accrue to sand labourers. Using qualitative data gathered from various sand extraction and transportation sites along the Mekong River in and around Phnom Penh, this thesis reveals new insights into the sand extraction industry. This thesis draws upon sustainable livelihoods approaches to reveal the difficult trade-offs that rural Cambodians must make when leaving their homes to enter the sand extraction industry. The thesis then uses the concept of precarity to show that sand labour in Cambodia is characterized by precarious employment conditions, including work in remote and isolated locations, separation of families when men leave for sand related labour, a lack of formal work contracts or rights, an inability to diversify income sources, and unpredictable cycles of intermittent work. The thesis then follows the approach used in political ecology literature, examining the power relations that help explain why sand labourers have little choice but to pursue precarious livelihoods, while business and government elites amass great wealth from resource extraction in Cambodia. In doing so, this thesis helps to broaden the understanding of the implications of a little understood yet hugely important resource extraction industry.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -