Following the mass fainting of hundreds of workers at garment factories last week, an official at the Ministry of Labour has raised concerns over the control of toxic chemicals.
Leng Tong, director of the Labour Ministry’s occupational health and safety department, said factories should be providing the ministry with “chemical safety data” to ensure greater protection of workers’ health.
“I appeal for all factories to have chemical [data] in the factory for the health department [to assess and act on],” Tong said.
“As we know, chemicals in the factory could damage the brain, blood, kidneys, liver, lungs and skin.… It is part of what makes the workers faint during working.”
Hundreds of workers fell unconscious last week in incidents at Shen Zhou, Daqian Textile – suppliers to Puma, Adidas and Nike – and New Wide factories.
According to a statement released by the Community Legal Education Center on Friday, among the causes of the mass faintings speculated by workers were “strong fabric odours”.
Figures from the department of occupational health and safety show that there are 40 kinds of chemicals that are used in garment and shoe factories in Cambodia and that Tong claims are not being properly monitored.
“If there is no control of chemicals, it will affect the workers. This is the main challenge for the health department. To improve [conditions for] garment and shoe factory workers.”
However, Sieng Sambath, president of the Worker Friendship Union Federation, said yesterday that officials themselves must take a stronger approach to controlling the chemicals being used
“I have seen the factory or expert officials examine the chemicals in the factory [and look into] chemicals the factory uses as [insecticides], and they never identify which chemicals are affecting the workers’ health,” he said.
Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, said that both factories and the government should be doing more to ensure chemical safety.
“Factories are obligated to guarantee the safety of their workers from when they leave the house … to when they get home; this should be properly regulated by the government.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY