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Cambodia's factories improving, report finds

Employees manufacture items of apparel last year at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, where multiple faintings have occurred due to high temperatures on the factory floor.
Employees manufacture items of apparel last year at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, where multiple faintings have occurred due to high temperatures on the factory floor. Kimberley McCosker

Cambodia's factories improving, report finds

The latest Better Factories Cambodia report has found that 47 per cent of 381 assessed factories complied with its most important working conditions – up from 28 per cent in 2014.

The 33rd Synthesis Report, released on Friday and covering the May 2015 to April 2016 period, assessed the garment and footwear factories’ compliance against eight broad categories – including occupational safety and health, compensation and worker contracts – which were further divided into 33 sub-categories.

“While an increase of some compliance levels is a positive signal for the garment industry and their workers, there is also a need for further improvement in common areas of non-compliance that are indicated in the report,” ILO-BFC program manager Esther Germans said in a press release.

The top 10 areas of non-compliance – those with upwards of 60 per cent of factories failing to meet the goals set – remained largely unchanged. Those included requirements such as the selection of shop stewards, a functioning HIV/AIDS committee and medical examinations for workers prior to hiring.

However, more factories were holding regular evacuation drills, had unlocked emergency exits and could boast no worker discrimination.

The number of confirmed cases of child labour had also dropped from 65 in 2013, to 28 in 2014 and 16 in 2015.

Ken Loo, secretary-general for the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said part of the non-compliance was because the assessment had been expanded to be more in line with the global Better Work program, which added new criteria.

“There cannot be 100 per cent compliance,” he said. “This is because of the way the BFC has reported on certain items [this time].”

He questioned whether certain criteria, such as light levels in factories, were judged not in compliance because the technical criteria were too high. “You should ask the BFC,” he said.

William Conklin, country director at labour advocacy NGO Solidarity Center, said another area of high non-compliance was the use of fixed-term contracts for workers, which weren’t being transferred to undetermined duration employment contracts after two years of employment.

“This is because it gives factories labour flexibility to get rid of workers or to downsize their staff,” he added.

He added that high rates of non-compliance could be attributed to the low investment in the sector because investors weren’t exactly in Cambodia for “development of its garment sector”.

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