SINGAPORE — A Cambodian opposition lawmaker has called for a boycott of Nike Inc after two mass fainting incidents last week at a garment manufacturer that produces for the U.S. sportswear label.
Mu Sochua, arguably Cambodia’s most prominent female parliamentarian, told The Phnom Penh Post that the faintings of 107 workers last Wednesday and 195 workers last Friday at Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Mfg. Corp were the result of “economic exploitation on the back of workers.” The faintings were possibly due to exposure to poisonous chemicals or forced overtime, observers say.
“The brands are taking a big risk,” Mu was quoted as saying. “Consumers are beginning to learn what’s going on.”
Multiple attempts to reach Mu for further comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
“We take these matters very seriously and have sent in Nike’s Sustainable Manufacturing auditing team to conduct an investigation and speak with workers,” said Delwyn Hudson, Nike Inc’s global communications director for sustainable business and innovation, in an email. “Nike has requested ILO Better [Factories] Cambodia…to include this incident in their current research into the causes behind mass faintings in the region.” She did not comment on Mu’s boycott suggestion. The International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program monitors all factories with a garment export license for compliance with labor law.
Workers’ rights advocates seemed hesitant to back Mu’s call. “I understand her sentiment but to give credit where credit is due, Sabrina is one of the best [run factories in Cambodia] with an independent union and safety staff,” said Dave Walsh, country director for the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, an A.F.L.-C.I.O.-affiliate. “We should give Nike some time in addressing the problem.”
Walsh, a frequently quoted critic of Cambodian garment manufacturers, added that a boycott movement might lead brands like Nike to pull out in favor of countries like Bangladesh, where labor laws are less strict.
“Cambodia is an important market but globally very small,” he said. “Buyers have to be pressured to be involved, not boycotted.”
Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has estimated that 970 workers in the Southeast Asian kingdom’s garment and footwear manufacturing industry have fainted in the first three months of this year. The mass faintings have been attributed to factors such as the lack of a minimum living wage, poor working conditions and forced overtime.