NIKE executives will meet with executives of one of their suppliers in Phnom Penh today to discuss fainting incidents at its factory in Kampong Speu, union and industry representatives said yesterday.
Free Trade Union leader Chea Mony said the Nike executives would also discuss allegations of violations of workers’ rights at Taiwanese-owned Sabrina (Cambodia) Manufacturing, which he said employs about 8,000 workers.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said Nike was taking last week’s fainting incidents “very seriously”, adding that its regional director for Asia had flown in for meetings, which began with GMAC yesterday morning. A meeting was also held yesterday afternoon with Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser at Better Factories Cambodia, which was set up by the International Labour Organisation to monitor all garment factories that export from the Kingdom.
Tucker said Nike’s executives were “looking at all aspects of working conditions and trying to come up with a comprehensive plan that could be implemented over time to improve working conditions”.
Ken Loo said discussions with Nike focused on fainting incidents, their possible causes and how to solve them. “Everybody is looking for a solution,” he said, adding that “Nike is committed to being part of one”.
Chea Mony said the FTU had notified Nike after the first mass fainting incident at Sabrina last Wednesday and Nike subsequently sought details about the incident from the union. “Workers faint every week at Sabrina,” Chea Mony said, adding that the numbers were usually only a few and that the media only paid attention when fainting occurred en masse.
The FTU had also met with Nike executives on March 16 to discuss allegations that Sabrina management was discriminating against its members, and failing to uphold its code of conduct, he said.
Complaints from workers included forced overtime, dirty toilets and possible theft by administrative staff of overtime payment to workers, he said.
The FTU had also contacted Nike after Sabrina allegedly refused to comply with a March 27 ruling by the Arbitration Council calling on it to reinstate FTU factory leader Chy Sakla who had allegedly been dismissed for trying to unionise workers, Chea Mony said, adding that the company eventually reinstated him. Ken Loo said the case had been settled and described Cambodia as “union heaven”.
FTU representative Ouk Lina previously told the Post that the first fainting incident happened after workers were overcome by fumes from glue used to lay tiles, and that the tiling was being done to bring the factory up to standards set by Nike.
A second mass fainting incident occurred on Friday, and on Sunday, opposition MP Mu Sochua called for a boycott of global brands, including Nike, which failed to immediately address the fainting incidents and violations of labour rights at garment factories here.
Dave Welsh, country director of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said that if Nike was serious about its commitment to its code of corporate responsibility, it should become more engaged with Sabrina and help it alleviate the causes of the fainting incidents.
Nike has “an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is”, he said.
Welsh stressed that the problems facing Cambodia’s garment industry were “fixable”, and that the country continued to offer global brands an opportunity for creating a template for how a socially responsible supply chain could function.
The faintings have been attributed to a combination of factors, including poor nutrition, forced or coerced overtime and poor occupational health and safety. Some industry executives and Better Factories Cambodia have also said that “mass psychogenic illness” was a factor in the faintings.
Welsh said he hoped to meet with the Nike executives. “The thing about Cambodia is that it has the potential to be a model for the industry,” he said, adding that this shift would require more investment from buyers.
Loo said any pay rise for workers would have to come from the buyers, because contract manufacturers had low profit margins. The dynamic between buyers and suppliers had switched from one in which price was negotiated to one in which buyers dictated the price, he said.
He also said that faintings were difficult to alleviate because the incidents had no single cause.
“If someone could come up with a cure, all the stakeholders would buy in,” he added.
Nike executives have yet to respond to requests for comment. Officials at the labour ministry either did not answer the phone or hung up when contacted by the Post. Sabrina executives could not be reached by either landlines or mobile numbers yesterday.