Workers at a garment factory that was temporarily shut after more than 200 women collapsed in two mass fainting incidents last week gathered yesterday at the facility in Kampong Speu province for a Buddhist ceremony intended to rid the factory of evil spirits.
Pheng Songoun, a representative of Anful Garments Manufacturing, said the ceremony was held to reassure the roughly 1,000 employees ahead of their return to work today that evil spirits had been expelled from the factory, which was closed by labour officials following the incident.
Those who attended offered rice to four monks who in turn blessed the women and chanted prayers in front of the facility where workers fainted on Monday and Thursday last week.
Chin Chanthou, a worker among those who fainted on Monday, said the working space was now more open and orderly. “The ventilation is better and there is no bad smell like before,” she said.
Last Monday’s fainting was attributed to insecticide sprayed on fabrics, and Thursday’s fainting was attributed to lingering smells from the insecticide due to a lack of ventilation, according to government inspectors.
Anful is owned by Gladpeer Garment Factories Cambodia, an Anful executive who identified herself as Miss Zhen confirmed yesterday. Gladpeer, whose more than 2,000 workers were among those who joined a massive strike in September last year for better wages, opened in Cambodia in 1997 and expanded by opening Anful earlier this year.
Its Hong Kong-based parent company, Gladpeer Development, lists Abercombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, Giordano, Puma and Mango as its main clients. Global retailer H&M has described Anful as a “recent supplier”, but H&M is listed as a major customer of Gladpeer on the latter’s website.
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who visited Anful on the day of the first fainting incident, expressed concern that the government was endangering workers’ health, as well as putting the country’s main exporting industry at risk, by failing to get to the root of the fainting incidents that have plagued the industry.
“I was there on Monday. I could smell the insecticides,” she said. “This is a serious occupational health hazard. Some of the women [who fainted] were vomiting. What are the long-term effects of exposure to these chemicals? What are the effects on reproductive health?”
“I don’t want to see the garment sector, which has been doing so well, turn into another maids-to-Malaysia fiasco,” Mu Sochua said, referring to the ban placed on sending women to work as maids in Malaysia following reports of abuse and exploitation.
Mu Sochua also took aim at the brands the factories supply. “Why are they looking for ghosts in Cambodia instead of sending in experts to examine workplaces?” she asked. “I don’t understand why they are playing such a risky game. Wait until the headlines hit CNN saying H&M believes in ghosts. I don’t understand this ghost-busters nonsense.
“First they said Cambodian women were suffering from hysteria, now they’re looking for ghosts.”
Pheng Songoun said Anful had adhered to Labour Ministry requests and revamped its ventilation system. It would turn on its fans and ventilators half an hour before workers arrived and ensure that doctors were on site, he said.
Labour Ministry officials, led by health department director Pok Vann That, completed their inspection of the factory yesterday. Pok Vann That said the company had complied with 90 per cent of the changes it had been ordered to make.
“They made 90 per cent of the improvements. This is acceptable. The workers can return to work [today],” he said.