More than 1,200 workers have fainted this year at Cambodian garment factories. In the latest string of mass fainting incidents, 236 workers collapsed at Anful Garments Factory in Kampong Speu province, which supplies global retailer H&M. The first incident took place on a Monday, during which 100 workers collapsed from inhaling the insecticide sprayed on the fabrics. After a 3-day closure of the factory, another 136 workers fell ill on the opening day as a result of the factory's failure to clean the environment. Ou Ta, an administrative officer at Anful, claimed the factory had cleaned its workspaces and blamed the fainting on hysteria. The workers reportedly experienced headache and dizziness and had to be taken to hospitals. Some were complaining of numbness in their hands and knees before they started fainting. Chea Chanry, one of the factory workers, described that
"I was shaking, I couldn't breathe and I vomited. Many people vomited."
Since the second incident, Anful has revamped its ventilation system and made 90 per cent of the improvements that had been requested by the Labour Ministry.
This is the third incident this year of mass fainting at a supplier of H&M garments. About 300 workers collapsed at the Hung Wah textiles factory in Phnom Penh in July and another 284 workers fell ill in August at M&V International Manufacturing in Kompong Chnang province. Although H&M said it took the incidents seriously, authorities have failed to reach a conclusion on the cause of those faintings.
The garment industry is the main industry in Cambodia. In addition to health hazards posed by poor working environments, workers endure long hours for meagre salaries of about $60 a month to help feed rural families. Cambodia has a history of labor violations and belongs to one of the countries with the lowest wage costs. In 2010, almost 300,000 garment factory workers in Cambodia went on strike demanding a raise. This is also not the first time H&M has been implicated in a human/workers rights violation. In 2006, H&M was accused of using child labour and paying substandard wages to their workers in Cambodia. Undernourished children aged 14-15 were working under conditions described as slavery.
The current effective wage is not a living wage. Workers are forced to work overtime in order to maintain minimum living standard. Minimum wages mean that the workers live in dire poverty, barely able to pay for healthy meals. Wages must be raised to meet living wage standards and should not be dependent on overtime. Working environments must be improved in regards to occupational safety and health. There has also been concern about the safety of workers exercising trade union activities. All workers should be alllowed to exercise their rights freely and safely according to national laws and international standards.
Please take the appropriate measures to improve the labor conditions on Cambodias garment factories!