Ethical Shopping in Cambodia – Know The Story Behind The Souvenir

In a consumer-driven world, most of us are guilty of buying something for the sake of it, without sparing a thought for how the product came to be. As a specialist in ethical products from Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, I am dedicated to educating people, tourists in particular, on ethical shopping. Cambodia is a treasure trove of unique wares, textiles and fashion, you’ve just got to know what to look for.

Why ethical shopping in Cambodia?

Ethical shopping has a positive impact on the world. When we support progressive brands and carefully choose what we buy, it impacts people, the environment and animals. Cambodia is a country where ethical shopping is paramount because the country is still struggling to rebuild after the civil war in the late 70’s. Human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and slavery are an ongoing problem.

When you don’t support ethical sellers, you are potentially supporting this exploitation, spending your money with businesses that pay well below the living wages and others whose products are made by slaves. A living wage is a human right.

When you don’t support ethical sellers, you could be lining the pockets of companies whose products are responsible for the destruction of wildlife habitats and polluting the earth. Shopping ethically is about knowing the journey of what you are purchasing, knowing that it has been a positive one and one which will have positive outcomes.

‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, necessary social services, and the right to security…’

– United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 25.1

How to shop ethically in Cambodia

It’s not difficult to shop ethically in Cambodia – you just need to know where to shop and how to spend your money. Here are a few things to look out for when shopping in Cambodia.

Shop Independent & local – When seeking ethical jewellery, clothing and accessories, look for independent boutiques, particularly local businesses. If you’re ever unsure where a product originates from, ask the question. Buying local often means the money is put back into the community.

Check the labels – the label should say where the product was made, what the product is made from, whether it is organic or 100% natural/organic.

Shop at a Fair Trade business Buy Fair Trade goods from a Fair Trade business. These goods are ethically made and sold according to the principles of the World Fair Trade Organisation. These principles outline the education, training and employment opportunities to be provided, that people should be paid fairly and that the production of the goods is environmentally sustainable

Support tradition – With the introduction of technology and machinery, many traditional crafts and ways of making things struggle to survive. Instead of buying mass produced, purchase traditional creations like silk weaving, to support the hundreds of years old traditions.

Avoid souvenir shops – Avoid your typical souvenir shops and shop at local markets, buy handmade or purchase recycled products.

Avoid plastic bags – Unfortunately, Cambodia has a massive rubbish problem and still uses single use plastic bags. More often than not, these plastic bags don’t even make landfill, you’ll often find them floating around the streets. Opt to shop with sellers who have a zero waste policy and who support upcycling of plastic bags.

Angkor Bullett Jewellery2

Ethical products with powerful stories

When ethical shopping in Cambodia, you’ll not only find wonderful products made from recycled materials, they also have powerful stories behind them.

In Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, you will find jewellery made from bullets. The jewellery is called, ‘Angkor Bullet Jewellery’ and is made from the recycled bomb casings left over from war days.

Urbanisation is ever-increasing in Phnom Penn and this means that many women have been displaced. These women make bags using old fishing nets and recycled plastic bags. Designed in Italy, these Smateria bags are both supporting the women of Cambodia and helping the environment.

Another wonderful example of ethical shopping opportunities in Cambodia is with Senhoa Jewellery. This unique jewellery is made by women who have been rescued from slavery or who have been at risk of becoming slaves. To purchase such a beautiful piece knowing that it supports a woman who was rescued from a dark place is so much more worthy than buying something with no story to tell.

Lastly, the story behind Rany and her Graines De Cambodge collection is similar to many Cambodian stories. A woman rejected by her family and unable to find work creates jewellery, not from precious metals but from seeds which she painstakingly transforms into beautiful jewellery.

It’s so easy to take our lives for granted when making purchases. Ethical shopping, Cambodia and worldwide, is about being mindful of where we spend our money and how it can impact people’s lives and the earth. When you make your next purchase during a trip to Cambodia, take the time stop and think about how and who it will impact.


Judith is an avid traveller who has spent many years in Cambodia with her growing family. Judith is passionate about empowering Cambodian locals to earn a living wage through her ethical gift store Temples and Markets. You can read the story of one of her local sources, Angkor Bullet Jewellery, a small village-based group that creates jewellery out of recycled aluminium bullet casings from times of war and is passionate about the personal development of vulnerable Cambodians with disabilities.

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