Working Conditions Deteriorating in Cambodia: ILO

Issues are arising in key areas including fire safety, child labor, and occupational safety and health, according to a new report.

GENEVA — After many years of steady progress in Cambodia, working conditions are deteriorating. In many export-oriented apparel factories, key areas including fire safety, child labor and occupational safety and health show worsening conditions, according to a monitoring report released Thursday by the International Labor Organization.

This story first appeared in the July 19, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Unfortunately our data shows that following steady improvement in working conditions between 2005 to 2011, conditions are now declining,” said Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser of the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia, or BFC, Program.

The Synthesis Report for the period from Nov. 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013, which monitored 155 factories (152 garment and three footwear) concludes there is a “waning attention” to working conditions.

“Some of the noncompliance may be attributed to the industry’s rapid growth since 2011. Still, all stakeholders need to take stronger steps to halt the downward trend,” Tucker said.

The number of export factories in Cambodia soared to 412 from 384 between November 2012 and April 2013, and the amount of garment workers in export factories grew to 394,262 from 374,318 over that period, the report notes.

In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of more than 1,100 garment workers, and the death of two Cambodian workers at a footwear factory in May, the ILO said, “Global buyers are demanding that Cambodia’s industry make good on its commitment on decent work.”

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The report calls for the Cambodian government, the Garment Manufacturer’s Association of Cambodia, international buyers, trade unions and civil advocacy groups to help secure positive changes in the industry, and argues that while individual factories must take responsibility for ushering in changes, sector-wide change “is unlikely” without sustained pressure from industry players and other stakeholders.

In the area of fire safety, the study outlines some measures such as availability of fire extinguishers and clearly market exits show good compliance, however, compliance with other measures, “has decreased and is unacceptably low.”

Of the 155 factories covered in the report, the ILO said, 24 kept emergency exit doors locked during working hours, which marks a significant decrease in compliance; nearly 70 factories failed to conduct emergency fire drills every six months, and 80 factories had obstructed access paths.

Similarly, it stressed BFC monitors suspected child laborers in 13 factories, and confirmed that in three of the factories, where it was able to conduct field investigations, six children were at work.

On a brighter note, the ILO also documents there have been improvements in the payment of wages, attendance bonuses and other wage supplements, and in the payment of sick leave as required, and the minimum wage was increased to $75 from $61 per month, as of May 1. A mandatory monthly health care benefit of $5 is also now included in the minimum wage, bringing the total to $80 per month.