About 170 garment workers fainted at a factory in Kampong Speu yesterday, the first day Anful Garments Manufacturing reopened after being hit by a mass fainting incident on Monday, workers and government officials said yesterday.
The second mass fainting at the Hong Kong-owned factory, which supplies global retailer H&M, follows the release of a report commissioned by the Swedish retailer that claimed the cause of fainting at another factory that supplies it was “a case of mass pychogenic illness”, or “mass hysteria”.
Han Porn Kun, a doctor with the department of labor and a member of the ministry’s committee on research and prevention of fainting of workers, however, blamed yesterday’s fainting on the factory’s management. It had failed to improve the ventilation system and did not rearrange the production chain according to recommendations made by the committee following Monday’s mass fainting, he told the Post.
Opposition MP Mu Sochua, who visited the factory on Monday, also warned yesterday that global brands that produce garments in Cambodia should be very careful of “peddling this propaganda” about mass hysteria. “Cambodia may be a place where they can abuse workers, but at some point this is going to backfire and hit their customers,” she explained.
“If I were the buyers like H&M, Nike, Gap, I’d bring in a real expert to ensure their names are not tainted globally,” she said, dismissing the two-day investigation commissioned by H&M. It said that workers were being forced to work overtime in violation of labour law and at the same time that the faintings were caused by mass hysteria, she said. Anful employee Sim Ra said workers were complaining of numbness in their hands and knees before they started fainting. “My head started aching, I suddenly felt tired, and then I began vomiting,” she said.
Han Porn Kun said the fainting on Monday was caused by the spraying of insecticides on fabrics and said yesterday’s fainting was a result of its failure to clean its environment as it had been ordered to do.
However, Ou Ta, an administrative officer at Anful, said the factory had cleaned its workspaces and blamed the fainting on hysteria.
Han Porn Kun said the factory would be shut until Tuesday so that it could make the improvements to its workplace it was instructed to do.
Mu Sochua said the solution was better wages and improved working environments. “This is not something that is going to go away,” she said.
H&M has yet to respond to questions about the investigation into mass faintings at M&V Manufacturing International in August. Both factories are monitored by the International Labour Organisation’s Better Factories Cambodia program, which is conducting a probe into the faintings that have shut numerous garment factories.
Mu Sochua said inflation was increasing faster than wages and that workers were as a result “unable to put enough calories into their bodies to do their work”.