The report “Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and Value Extraction from the Mekong: A Case study on the Control and Exploitation of Land and Labor in Cambodia and Myanmar SEZs” is a year-long process and effort of the researcher, Focus team and related stakeholders since 2016. A scoping study in Cambodia and Myanmar was conducted to guide the study. This research is a product of the literature review, interviews with various stakeholders from government officials, investors, garment manufacturer association representatives, a national Human Rights Commissioner, local NGOs working on SEZs and investment and representatives from unions and labor organizations in both Cambodia and Myanmar.
SEZs have been built since 1960s to facilitate global free trade and integrate the developing countries into a global production and distribution networks. SEZs remain controversial with supporters believe that SEZs help create more jobs for citizens, building infrastructure for the country and helping host countries diversify their economies, while critics have shown that SEZs have brought more costs than benefits when negatively impacting livelihood of local communities, undermine workers’ rights and causing environmental harm and degradation.
The study shows that SEZs in Greater Mekong Sub-region have played an important role in regional integration and economic development, however, they have been developed with limited transparency and locals are not involved in the planning process. The legislative and governance structures covering the development and operation of SEZs are believed to be skewed toward the interest of the investors and against those of locals and environment. Instead of bringing benefits to the locals as promised, SEZ has been used as a tool for investors to exploit the host countries’ resources and labor. The lack of transparency and weakness in governance structures further prevents the authority to act for the voice and benefits of the local people.