The second mass fainting to hit a factory in Kampong Chnnang that supplies knitwear for H&M this week has prompted intervention from provincial labour officials and an investigation by the Swedish-based company.
The International Labour Organisation, which monitors the M&V factory where as many as 198 people fainted yesterday, acknowledged that inadequate nutrition was a concern and that it was “discussing how the industry could provide sustainable solutions to this sad situation”.
The nutritional status of workers was a “preoccupying situation” that “goes beyond the immediate mass fainting incidents we are seeing”, the ILO told the Post.
The ILO’s statement follows reports from garment workers and union representatives that workers cannot afford to feed themselves on the 30 US cents an hour they earn for working 48 hours a week.
The latest fainting episode began about 8:30am yesterday when two workers collapsed, employee Norn Leakhena said, adding that panic was not the cause for the wave of fainting that followed.
The number of employees briefly hospitalised was 198, according to Som Sinath, deputy director of the provincial labour department. An executive of M&V International Manufacturing Ltd, the company that operates the factory, put the number at about 130.
Noun Chhenghour, president of the Cambodia Union Workers, which represents workers at the factory, said some of the workers who fainted yesterday had been among those who fainted on Tuesday, when more than 100 people collapsed.
Som Sinath said management agreed that those who had fainted should be allowed time to recover and would not have to return to the factory until Monday.
In Mon, an administrative officer at M&V, said the fainting had been caused by the employees’ poor health, reiterating a denial of allegations that the company forced workers to work overtime.
“We still can’t understand how two workers fainting leads to hundreds fainting,” he said.
An M&V executive said the company, which employs about 4,500 staff in Cambodia, had always received a “great” appraisal from the ILO, which monitors its factories under its Better Factor-ies Cambodia program.
A spokesman from H&M’s head office in Sweden said it was “aware of the mass faintings” in Cambodia, including the most recent ones at M&V.
Investigations by the government and the ILO had “not found any plausible causes” for the faintings, he said.
H&M staff had also investigated, he said, adding that the “root cause of the mass faintings is difficult to establish”.
The company was teaming with external experts and was in close contact with Better Factories Cambodia and the Garment Manufacturers Association to identify the cause, he said.
Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn warned that mass faintings would increase. Inflation was eroding salaries and garment makers were forgoing meals and working overtime, he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DON WEINLAND