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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Armani supplier pledges reforms

An employee works at Kin Tai Garment factory
An employee works at Kin Tai Garment factory last month in Phnom Penh. Last week after a meeting between Armani and the in-factory union’s president, an agreement was reached that is to see the installation of a long-awaited cooling system to bring hellish factory temperatures under control. Kimberley McCosker

Armani supplier pledges reforms

At an Armani supplier factory in Phnom Penh where workers struggled to stay conscious under boiling temperatures, employees erupted in cheers on Friday upon learning efforts are finally being made to bring about reforms.

A Post exposé last month of conditions at the Kin Tai Garment factory detailed the lives of garment workers who toil under extreme heat to produce clothes for the Italian fashion house’s Armani Jeans line.

In a bid to keep from fainting, they resorted to a traditional healing practice known as coining, which involved scraping at their skin with a metal object until it was raw.

Workers said as many as 30 people would undergo the “treatment” in a single day.

The majority of the seamstresses – whose garments are shipped mainly to the US, where a single pair of jeans is sold for more than their monthly wage – were working on insecure contracts that appeared at odds with Armani’s code of conduct.

The conditions flew in the face of years-old rulings by the Arbitration Council, Cambodia’s statutory labour adjudication body, as well as agreements between the factory and workers.

But now, after years of reported inaction, the abuses are being addressed.

Chheang Thida, the in-factory union’s president, was called on Thursday to meet visiting representatives of the high-end label.

“They told me that they will try to help us with our concerns so I raised three main topics and they agreed to think to about it,” she said.

“The first thing is the temperature inside the factory. The second topic was about the seniority bonuses, and the third topic was about getting long-term contracts for those of us who have worked at Kin Tai for more than two years.”

The following day, Thida said, a “technical group” arrived at Kin Tai and began constructing water sprinklers for its metal roofs.

“I talked to the factory, and they told me that they will install the water sprinklers within 15 days,” she said.

In an email yesterday, an Armani spokeswoman declined to comment on the reported visit, saying only that the brand “regularly visits and audits its suppliers in Italy and abroad”.

“The heat problem didn’t appear in the most recent audits [in April] but Armani is obviously looking into all aspects, and will take actions accordingly to the law and to the company code of conduct,” she added.

The factory’s administration manager, Pov Soeun, could not be reached yesterday, but two of his assistants confirmed that action was being taken.

Following Armani’s visit, Sok Borey said, “the factory is now installing the water sprinklers and our boss will pay for it”.

Another administration assistant, Heng Vatey, acknowledged that “the heat inside the factory is very bad for the workers” and said he hoped the new cooling system would solve the problem.

Workers at the factory are also hopeful that the efforts will be successful.

Long Na Ty, a 28-year-old seamstress who has previously fainted under the factory’s scorching temperatures, said workers had rejoiced at the brand’s visit.

“Not just me but all the workers were screaming and cheering after hearing that we are going to have water sprinklers,” she said.

“I think if the factory provides us with a proper cooling system, it will help workers a lot in maintaining good health”.

Joel Preston, a consultant with the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), which is in regular contact with unionists at the factory, said it was “fantastic to see them finally taking action”.

“The process has been far too long and drawn out [but] I hope this [addressing problems] now becomes the rule, rather than the exception”.

Though, he added, there is still “a long way to go”.

Issues of contracts, bonuses and paid leave still need to be addressed, and even the brand’s monitoring of its factories needs to be reviewed, he explained.

“They’ve been monitoring [Kin Tai] but none of these violations came up.”

Workers, meanwhile, hope Armani’s efforts to resolve issues with the heat mark the beginning of a more rewarding working life.

“I hope Armani can visit us often, listen to our problems and solve them. We would all be very happy and work harder if we were taken good care of,” said Na Ty.

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