New research released last week shows that nearly a third of female garment workers were underweight and more than a quarter were anaemic, with one physician saying yesterday that this increased their risk of exhaustion and fainting on the factory floor.
The study was published by researchers at the Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany and found that of the 223 young and nulliparous – women who haven’t borne children – female garment workers surveyed at a factory in Phnom Penh, 31.4 percent were underweight and 26.9 percent anaemic.
“Although most underweight workers showed mild underweight . . . the term ‘mild’ in this classification should not veil the serious consequences of it,” the study reads.
While the research does not detail these consequences, it does cite poor nutrition as one of the causes. Despite earning an average of $190 a month, including overtime and bonuses, workers were sending upwards of $100 a month to their families in the provinces and spending only $1.50 a day on food.
William Conklin, director of labour advocacy group Solidarity Center, agreed that there were high expectations from workers to send as much of the salary back home as possible, often resulting in sacrifices on things like food spending.
Chap Modich, a physician at the privately run Mercy Medical Center in Phnom Penh, said factory working conditions – hot and poorly ventilated – often exacerbated the health threats of anaemia and being underweight. “Some of these places are not ventilated and there is no air flow,” he said. “The risks are then low oxygen supply, and then they feel dizziness and fatigue.”