Nearly 200 female garment workers were hospitalized after fainting while on the job in two separate Cambodian factories, prompting concerns over worker conditions in the country’s factories. The country's textile industry, which employs some 700,000 workers, has been criticized in recent years for inhumane working conditions.
A representative of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union said he was told by workers at one factory that fumes caused Monday’s fainting, the Cambodia Daily reported. “The investigating team didn’t use the right equipment,” Seang Sokun, the representative, said. “They used their noses … and found nothing.”
The National Social Security Fund (NSSF), a Cambodian government agency, released a report tacitly dismissing the criticism, attributing the mass fainting to poor worker health rather than the industry’s inadequate work conditions.
They said a man at one of the factories on Tuesday was sent to a hospital with a bad cough and on Monday a woman shocked herself on her sewing machine, Cambodia Daily reported.
“They fainted because the workers were fearful, on top of their existing weak health conditions: fevers, dizziness, difficulty breathing and little strength to stand,” said Cheav Bunrith, a spokesperson for NSSF, according to the newspaper.
Cambodia's textile industry, which brings in about $5 billion a year, has come under scrutiny in the past for poor worker conditions. In 2013, a shoe factory's ceiling collapsed, causing 2 deaths and a dozen injuries, prompting calls for better oversight of the industry. Last year, thousands of workers went on strike demanding better pay and rights.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the working conditions in the country’s 1,200 textiles businesses in the past. In March, the human rights organization published a 140-page report scrutinizing the industry for its labor abuses.
The report found workers, most often women, were routinely forced to work overtime and in poor conditions, with little government oversight of factories. Following thousands of government inspections spanning five years, the investigation found only 10 fines were imposed on factories for violating labor laws.
“The Cambodian government should take swift measures to reverse its terrible record of enforcing its labor laws and protect workers from abuse,” said Aruna Kashyap, a senior women’s rights researcher at HRW, commenting on the report in March. “These global apparel brands are household names. They have a lot of leverage, and can and should do more to ensure their contracts with garment factories are not contributing to labor rights abuses.”
There were 557 fainting incidents at factories in Cambodia the first half of this year, compared to almost 900 the previous year, Bunrith, the NSSF spokesman, said, according to Cambodia Daily.