Staff at the garment factory in Kampong Chnnang where more than 100 workers fainted on Tuesday morning while making knitwear for global brand H&M had been forced to work overtime of up to six hours a day for about two months prior to the incident, a representative of their union said yesterday.
“The factory’s boss forced workers to work an extra four to six hours a day during the past two months,” union representative Norn Leakhena said, adding that from January to March they were forced to
work until 11:00pm. She also said fainting was commonplace at the factory, especially in areas adjacent to the laundry room, which emitted fumes that made workers dizzy.
An executive with M&V International Manufacturing Ltd, however, denied allegations of forced overtime and a toxic working environment, saying the fainting was caused by a “strange psychological phenomenon”.
“In China, this kind of thing is unthinkable. We can’t understand how this happens so often in Cambodia,” said the executive who declined to identify himself by name.
“The workers don’t pass out at once, they pass out in succession. One worker passes out, and when another sees this and she passes out, then another and another and another. It’s beyond my comprehension,” he explained.
The factory is run by a Macau-owned company that produces items for several global brands, including Benetton and H&M, at factories in China and Cambodia.
The Kampong Chnnang facility produces knitwear for H&M, the executive confirmed.
He said poor health was an underlying cause of the fainting. “The workers’ health is poor. They don’t eat breakfast and come to work very tired.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Center, said factory staff reported that at least three or four workers fainted every day at the facility after inhaling an insecticide sprayed inside it. He also pointed to the legal wage, about US 30 cents an hour, as an underlying cause.
“The monthly $61 basic salary [for 48 hours per week] is insufficient so employees have to work overtime. They don’t get enough sleep and they don’t get enough to eat so they are susceptible to fainting,” he said.
The factory was inspected by monitors from the International Labour Organisation earlier this month as part of its Better Factories Cambodia programme, ILO communications officer Ying Bun said. He also said that the factory would be inspected again.
“When an incident such as mass fainting happens, our monitoring team visits, and approaches the factory, workers, unions, and victims to seek further information and keep buyers informed,” he said.
Ying Bun said that Better Factories Cambodia did not disclose information on particular factories, but provides an overview of the industry and allows each company to decide for itself whether it will disclose the results of the ILO monitoring to its potential suppliers.
It released a report earlier this month that found that garment factories were, for the most part, compliant with national laws and international labour standards.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DON WEINLAND