Sportwear giant Puma says it is taking a second outbreak of fainting at one of its Cambodian shoe suppliers “very seriously” after 49 workers at the Huey Chuen factory were hospitalised in Phnom Penh yesterday morning.
The clothing and shoe brand said it was taking immediate ‘‘interim measures’’ to address the incident, which occurred a few days after a report released last week by the Fair Labour Association found multiple breaches of labour laws had contributed to about 104 workers fainting at the same factory in April. The company did not detail the measures to be put in place.
The FLA report found that a possible exposure to hazardous chemicals – including toluene, a substance banned by Puma – along with excessive working hours and high temperatures in the factory, had caused mass fainting on April 9 and 10.
“Puma takes this fainting incident, the second within four months at the same factory premises, very seriously and has implemented a short-medium and long-term improvement plan while also taking interim measures immediately,” yesterday’s statement read.
It said an investigation had been launched but workers had been given sufficient rest and no “volatile chemicals” were being used at the time. Improvements had been made at the factory in the past two months, it added.
Puma also acknowledged that the situation for workers in Cambodian factories in general was problematic, and the statement vowed to open talks with industry peers to “tackle the issues on an industry-wide level”.
Workers recovering at clinics throughout the capital were uncertain why they had fainted.
Pov Phalla, a worker from the Huey Chuen factory, said yesterday: “I got a headache and felt very dizzy.”
But Dangkor district police chief Born Sam Ath said yesterday he believed the workers had fainted because of expos-ure to poisonous chemicals.
A representative from Huey Chuen declined to give his name yesterday or answer questions. Mouen Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, shared his view. “It sounds like they [Huey Chuen] have not improved much. We suspect that the fainting was caused by chemical substances, not enough ventilation and also the storage of the chemical substances,” he said.
Mouen Tola also questioned why an investigation into April’s fainting by the Ministry of Labour had found nothing wrong with the Huey Chuen factory, contradicting the findings of the Fair Labour Association. Huey Chuen is not the only factory to have seen fainting incidents in the last week. About 300 workers also fainted over the past two days at the Hung Wah (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing factory in Dangkor district, Born Sam Ath said yesterday.
Hung Wah factory administration chief Leav Chhay Meng told The Post tiredness and shock could be to blame.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said yesterday he would leave it to relevant authorities to investigate the cause of the fainting at Hung Wah factory.
“The workers say its chemicals from the factory or insecticides, I think that’s a little far fetched,” he said, adding that harmful chemicals were not used in the manufacturing of garments, and if they were consumers would be equally affected. The Huey Chuen factory, he added, would very soon be absorbed under the umbrella of GMAC.
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said yesterday he had sent a letter to relevant ministries complaining of fainting related to poor hygiene standards and corruption amongst investigators. Officials from the Minsitry of Labour and Vocational Training could not be reached for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING MEAS SOKCHEA AND DON WEINLAND