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Cambodia Poses Fire Safety Hazards

The ILO's Better Factories Cambodia program found low levels of adherence with fire safety regulations in the country.

SINGAPORE — Cambodia’s garment manufacturing industry, already reeling from widespread industrial action and a series of mass faintings, is facing grave risks in fire safety, according to a new report from the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program.

This story first appeared in the April 16, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

BFC’s monitors canvassed 160 factories in the Southeast Asian kingdom for six months starting May 1 and found adherence with fire safety regulations dropped by an unprecedented 30 percent to a 57 percent compliance rate.

“It is possible that attention to workplace safety and health standards and other legal standards have waned as factories are challenged to fill the increased volume of orders,” the report said. “However, recent deadly fires in the garment sector in other Asian countries remind us that vigilance is required on such measures.”

The report noted a drop in the use of child labor — just 1 percent of the factories it monitored utilized underage employees, down from 8.5 percent in 2011 — but otherwise noted “no significant change in areas known to contribute to fainting incidents.” According to the Cambodia Ministry of Labor, 1,686 workers fainted across 22 accidents in 2012. The report found only 32 percent of the plants it surveyed had acceptable heat levels, while 36 percent of factories did not have adequate ventilation.

Monitors reported that in 89 percent of factories, overtime was voluntary, but said that certain discrepancies suggested there might be a concerted attempt to hide forced overtime from the authorities.

The BFC project stems from a trade agreement between the U.S. and Cambodia in which the export-reliant country pledged better working conditions in the garment industry in return for improved access to the U.S. market. The Cambodian government only grants export licenses to garment factories that are registered with the program, but the ILO project is reliant on cooperation with garment plants and has limited enforcement capability. This year it started delivering details on “chronically noncompliant companies” to the government for action.