Nearly half of Cambodia’s garment workers are anaemic, with 15 per cent considered underweight by international standards, according to data released yesterday on hunger in the industry.
The International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) issued some baseline summary results for a study on garment workers’ health and productivity. The results shocked chief researcher Ian Ramage, research director for Angkor Research and Consulting Ltd, the analysis firm contracted for the survey.
“People just don’t have enough to eat, and that’s surprising to me for a population with a monthly salary,” Ramage said. “It is surprising and interesting and disturbing.”
The data, which show more than 43 per cent of garment workers in Cambodia are anaemic and 8 per cent “met the definition for severely food insecure”, were taken from a survey of almost 4,000 employees of 10 factories between May and June.
Ramage said the data taken from factories in Phnom Penh, Kampong Speu and Kandal provinces roughly match hunger rates in Cambodia as a whole, which is largely rural.
Such evidence calls for a two-pronged approach to deal with worker hunger, which has been cited as a factor in factory mass faintings, said Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center.
Along with raised wages, Welsh said a memorandum of understanding regarding access to healthy food has been in the works. In addition, subsidised housing or rent control could prevent landlords from hiking prices when salaries rise, taking money away from food budgets.
However, Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said yesterday that the sample study did not necessarily reflect the entire industry. Furthermore, he added, garment workers sometimes make purchases that call into question their desperate food situation.
“How can anyone claim that workers don’t earn enough to eat properly?” Loo asked. “Most of them have their own mobile phones.”