Mass Fainting In Garment Factory

Cambodian workers are treated after feeling ill on the job.
2011-10-24
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Workers are attended to after fainting at a factory in Kandal province, Aug. 31, 2011.
Workers are attended to after fainting at a factory in Kandal province, Aug. 31, 2011.
RFA

Nearly a thousand workers were ferried to hospital Monday after fainting at a garment factory in southern Cambodia, marking the latest such incident to hit the textile industry, a top revenue earner for the country.

Nearly 1,000 employees at the Anful Garments Factory (Cambodia) Ltd. in southern Kampong Speu province were taken to a local hospital after complaining of nausea and dizziness during a shift on the factory floor, one female worker told RFA.

“A lot of them fainted—almost 10 cars were needed to carry the fainted workers [back and forth].  About a half of the total factory workers said they first felt dizzy and then fell unconscious,” the worker said.

“Villagers rushed to check on the fainted workers, but the number [of fainted workers] kept growing, so [the factory manager] had to take them to the hospital.”

Chea Mony, the leader of one of Cambodia’s biggest independent unions, the Free Trade Union, told Agence France-Presse that the factory had been sprayed with insecticide over the weekend.

“I am investigating the case,” he said.

The news agency also quoted provincial police chief Keo Pisei who confirmed that a large number of workers had fallen unconscious, but said that the number was “less than 1,000.”

String of faintings

The mass fainting marked the fifth such incident to affect the textile industry in recent months.

On Aug. 31, four ministers of the Cambodian government condemned the Chinese-owned Heart Enterprise Garment Factory for substandard factory conditions after more than 50 workers fell ill on the job.

After inspecting the factory, Minister of Industry Suy Sem said unhygienic conditions and small working spaces due to stockpiles of clothing had affected the workers’ health.

Nearly a dozen incidents of mass fainting have been reported in Cambodian factories this year.

They are mostly blamed on workers' poor health, bad ventilation in the workplace, or exposure to dangerous chemicals.

But factory management has blamed “strange psychological phenomena” for the mass collapses, saying they have come after a single worker cries out and faints.

Toxic chemicals

The garment sector is Cambodia's third-largest currency earner after agriculture and tourism. Many of the workers labor long hours for meager salaries which are critical for hundreds of thousands of poor rural families.

In late 2009, officials vowed to crack down on safety violations that endanger factory workers after toxic fumes in a garment factory in Cambodia’s capital sickened hundreds of workers.

In August, environmental watchdog Greenpeace said in a report from Beijing that traces of toxic chemicals harmful to the environment and to human health had been detected in products made by 14 top clothing manufacturers.

Samples of clothing from top brands including Adidas, Uniqlo, Calvin Klein, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Lacoste, Converse, and Ralph Lauren were found to be tainted with the chemicals, known as nonylphenol ethoxylates, the watchdog said at the launch of its report "Dirty Laundry 2."

Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Hassan Abukasem. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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