Three days of mass fainting were reported in garment factories in Cambodia in the first week of April. In the country’s capital Phnom Penh, 337 workers, mostly female, were sent for treatment to four separate clinics.
Over the week, the fainting occurred at 11 buildings in three factories inside Vantanak Park – Shenzhou, Daqian Textile and New Wide. These names are not known outside Cambodia but they produce clothing for international sports brands Adidas, Puma, and Nike.
The garment sector is a $5 billion dollar export industry in Cambodia which employs more than 600,000 workers. For many years, workers have been complaining of receiving measly wages.
Labor groups initially suspected that “unsanitary water and food, and strong fabric odors” caused the fainting among workers.Mass fainting cases have been regularly reported and are blamed on poor working conditions inside the factories.
Last December, garment workers asked the government to raise the monthly minimum wage from $80 to $160 dollars. But the government said the economy can only sustain an incremental $15-$20 increase. In response, garment unions conducted a nationwide strike but this was violently dispersed by police forces in January.
The site of the bloody crackdown is only a few meters away from one of the factories where workers fainted en masse this week.
This April 3, more than 200 garment workers fainted in Canadia Park, where bloody strike in Jan 2014. CMO reported. pic.twitter.com/S5RUQQDjwn
— Sopheak SREY (@sopheaksrey) April 3, 2014
The Community Legal Education Center linked the fainting with malnutrition and poor wages of garment workers. The group urged global brands to improve the conditions of their supply-chain workers:
International brands such as Adidas, Puma and Nike are complicit in this. Whilst their various codes and standards state that wages are essential for meeting the basic needs of employees and reasonable savings and expenditure, their supply-chain workers are not seeing any tangible benefits.
And we call on international brands such as Adidas, Puma and Nike to take concrete measures to address wages that currently do not satisfy basic needs nor provide for a life with human dignity.
The group also advised the government to raise the wages of workers:
We call on the government to return to wage negotiations immediately and end the endemic corruption that businesses now associate with Cambodia.
Why is the government denying the pay increase? Surely the companies are paying their wages. Isn’t it up to the big name labels to set individual pay packets. :-(
I’m quite sure the majority of consumers would pay a higher price for their garments if it meant that people in poorer countries were not being exploited. It makes me so baffled. Why is there not an easy answer?