Laurie Parsons is British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Royal Holloway and Co-investigator of the project ‘Blood Bricks: Examining the Modern Slavery-Climate Change Nexus in the Cambodian Construction Industry’. A researcher of Cambodian livelihoods since 2008, Laurie’s work investigates the impact of mass labour migration and climate change on socioeconomic inequalities. It combines a variety of approaches—including visual and statistical analysis of social networks, and qualitative methods—to discern how norms and social structures both reflect and mediate these new conditions. He has conducted large-scale projects examining Cambodia’s uneven economic development for Transparency International, Plan International, Save the Children, CARE International, ActionAid, the IDRC, and the Royal University of Phnom Penh, among others.
Cambodia today is the site of one of the world’s largest microcredit sectors. While it is widely believed that the extension of microcredit to Cambodia’s poor should be cause for all-round celebration, this essay reveals disquieting evidence of a deeply problematic development intervention. Indebted to microcredit institutions, increasing numbers of Cambodia’s poor population have been forced to accept exploitative labour conditions in the garment and construction industry, driven to despair due to the loss of their land, and, in the worst cases, had no choice but to ‘sell’ themselves as bonded labour to brick kilns owners.