An international Labour Organisation (ILO) report released on Tuesday shows that Cambodia continues to make steady progress in the welfare of garment and factory workers, but significant concerns remain over health and safety issues.
The ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia Programme (BFC) assessed the working conditions in 464 factories in the Kingdom between May 1, last year, and June 30, this year.
A notable area of improvement was in child labour, with the report showing that the number of underage workers “reduced sharply” from 74 cases between May 2013 and April 2014 to 10 cases in the current reporting period. It said underage workers often used falsified identification documents to get jobs.
“All 10 cases of child labour were confirmed as underage workers aged below 15 years, and all of them were girls."
“Four cases accepted [entry into] the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC)/BFC remediation programme and were placed in vocational training centres,” the report noted.
However, some parents encourage child labour in Cambodia, and send their underage children who are school drop outs to work in factories as they needed the income. In the process the parents falsified the identification documents to show their children were older.
Factories accused of having child workers have also complained that they were victims as they were given falsified documents to begin with.
A garment factory manager who declined to be named said: “Some of the children do look older and not underage. We only know the truth when we are inspected. So we are victims too. In reality, there is no shortage of workers that we need to infringe the law to hire underage workers,” he said.
Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central) programme coordinator Khun Tharo said while the reduction was a positive step, he suspects there may be many more cases that remained unreported, with child labour remaining prevalent across industries in Cambodia.
“Garment and footwear [manufacturing] is an intensively female workforce, with the majority living in poverty in rural areas."
“I’m not surprised by the report. I’m sure there are more child labour cases that remain unreported. Factory managers hide information when there is an inspection from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, International Labour Organisation or brands,” he said.
An area in which the report noted there was room for improvement was in worker health and safety. It said “93 per cent (433)” of factories did not have adequate lighting, also noting a lack of adequate medical facilities in “eighty-five per cent (394)” factories surveyed.
“While most factories have an infirmary, many don’t have nurses or doctors on duty during overtime hours, or have an insufficient number of beds, or don’t have the required medicines available,” it noted.
Health and safety was also a concern for Tharo, who said Central regularly receives reports of workers fainting in Cambodian factories as a result of “extremely hot temperatures”, poor ventilation and malnutrition stemming from low wages.
Despite these concerns, the research showed the overall number of violations on 21 critical issues in Cambodian factories fell from 811 in 2014 to 631 in the current reporting period, with the proportion of factories in compliance with all publicly reported issues rising from 32 per cent to 41 per cent.