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Garment report tightens focus

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Better Factories Cambodia’s latest report on garment exporters’ compliance with Cambodia’s Labour Law and international standards aims to be more relevant than the last one and to “drive change”, BFC program manager Jill Tucker said yesterday.

Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Sok Sreylak, a 22-year-old garment worker, is carried to a hospital after fainting at the Sportex factory in Phnom Penh in December.

“We were roundly criticised for the last report,” Tucker said.

Unions said it skipped key issues, while factory owners called it “meaningless” for veering off into unreasonable recommendations “like adjustable backrests to chairs”, she said.

“We wanted to stay relevant, so we asked ‘how do we make this report relevant and drive change?’” Tucker added.

It does so, union representatives said, by focusing on compliance with laws and standards related to workers’ health and welfare, particularly factors researchers linked to the spate of mass fainting incidents that hit the industry during the reporting period.

The incidents raised questions about working conditions at Cambodian garment factories as well as Better Factories’ ability to monitor them.

The report found high rates of noncompliance related to overtime, and noted that fewer factories were keeping a single payroll ledger. “Failure to comply with this [payroll ledger] requirement can indicate attempts by management to hide overtime work,” the 27th Synthesis Report on Working Conditions in Cambodia’s Garment Sector notes.

It focuses on factors researchers linked to the mass fainting incidents that hit 11 of the 300 garment factories monitored by the program in the six months to October 31. These included “poor nutrition, poor hygiene, the lack of a morning meal, heat stress, poor ventilation, excessive working hours, poor industrial relations and mass psychogenic behaviour”.

“Compliance levels are lower than 50 per cent on several requirements . . . relevant to the fainting incidents,” the report found.

Only 5 per cent of the factories monitored complied with legal requirements on “exceptional overtime” and only 16 per cent complied with the two-hour overtime limit.

Tucker denied that Better Factories was assuming an advocacy role.

“We are factually monitoring the situation and using it to drive change in the best possible way,” she said. “The information is factual. It is not really an opinion piece.”

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the report had a different “format”, but he saw no significant change in its content. Low compliance in overtime-related requirements had been noted previously, he said.

Still, the report, which GMAC comments on prior to its publication, “could be a helpful tool [for GMAC members] to identify some problem areas”, he said.

He stressed that factory owners and buyers were working to alleviate the conditions that caused the faintings, but were hindered by the inability to “accurately identify and pinpoint a single factor”.

The government’s policy that exporting factories must be monitored created a competitive advantage for factories here, he said, but  factories were under far more intense media scrutiny than those in some competing countries.  

Both Loo and Tucker agreed Cambodia was benefiting from a shift in manufacturing from China to Southeast Asia.

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