Mass faintings in Cambodia’s textile factories have risen, with over 2,000 workers passing out due to poor working conditions last year, a local trade union said in a new report Thursday, urging the government to do more to prevent the incidents.
The Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia said in its report that in 2012, a total of 2,107 workers fainted in 31 separate incidents at 29 factories in the country, where the garment industry is the largest employer.
The report did not include figures for 2011, but other groups including the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program counted fainting incidents involving nearly 2,000 workers at 12 factories that year.
The Free Trade Union’s report said the faintings were caused by fumes from paint on factory walls, chemical substances found in garment materials, food poisoning, pesticides, overtime work, smells and fumes from other materials, and other poor working conditions.
Free Trade Union President Chea Mony said the country’s health, industry, labor, and environment ministries needed to do more to improve factory conditions and prevent further fainting incidents.
"Those ministries are responsible for the workers’ welfare," he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Mass faintings in the country’s textile factories have garnered international attention since 2011, when nearly 300 workers fainted at a factory owned by a supplier to Swedish fashion brand H&M.
The incidents have prompted worker strikes in an industry plagued by complaints of low wages and few protections for labor rights.
Cambodia’s 300,000 textile workers often work long shifts for little pay in the garment factories, trade unions complain. The garment industry is Cambodia’s third-largest currency earner.
Ministry of Labor
The Ministry of Labor has plans in place to improve working conditions in garment factories and help prevent further mass faintings, including by educating workers about prevention, according to the deputy director of the ministry’s health department Pok Vannthat.
“We want to monitor the factories' hygiene. We will teach workers how to prevent mass fainting," Pok Vannthat said.
The health department is training its staff in inspecting factories and educating workers about mass fainting, he said.
The ministry also plans to conduct an awareness campaign aimed at educating workers about food safety and how to improve working conditions, he said.
But rights groups and labor advocates say workers are not the only ones responsible for protecting them against the poor working conditions that cause mass faintings.
Moeun Tola, the head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), a local rights group, said the Ministry of Labor had failed to adequately enforce laws aimed at protecting factory labor standards.
He said labor officials had not properly inspected and monitored factories where the faintings occurred.
"The labor law requires the ministry to inspect factories and monitor working conditions, hygiene, and safety," he said.
Reported by Sonorng Khe for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.