SINGAPORE — Another week and more garment industry mishaps in Cambodia. The accidents came as the Council of Fashion Designers of America weighed in on the tragedies in the global apparel industry.
Last week, CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg sent a letter to the organization’s membership, including links to download her own company’s Supplier Code of Conduct rules and Supplier Certification Document to encourage designers to follow similar guidelines.
“What happened in Bangladesh is a tragedy and a harsh reminder that it is our obligation as designers to make sure our factories are a safe place to work and that the workers are respected,” von Furstenberg wrote. “I also encourage you to have your production team visit directly with your supplier partners to see firsthand the working conditions and treatment of workers. There are third-party vendors who can audit and inspect for you. It is important to know who you work with and to ensure safety and fairness in the workplace.”
While Bangladesh continues to deal with the collapse of the apparel factory building in Savar that killed 1,127 people, on Monday two nonfatal occupational safety accidents struck the apparel industry in Cambodia, a kingdom already embattled from a partial factory collapse last Thursday that cost at least two lives and injured 11 others.
This week’s first incident came when a concrete platform collapsed into a pond at a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh operated by Top World Garment (Cambodia) Ltd.
Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said around 20 workers were sent to the hospital, while at least six had broken limbs. The Phnom Penh Post reported that a pregnant woman was said to be among those who had fallen into the pond. Multiple attempts to reach Top World Garment for comment on Monday afternoon were unsuccessful.
There was also another mass fainting on Monday at Wing Star Shoes Co. Ltd., the site of last week’s tragedy. Workers had been ordered to resume work on Monday, according to sources and local media, but between 10 and 30 workers fainted from trauma after an electrical short circuit at the factory early in the morning. Following the incident, workers were ordered to go home.
“Last week is still a nightmare for these workers, and they panicked and [exhibited] trauma symptoms,” said Moeun.
“It’s unbelievable that the factory even opened,” said David Welsh, country director at the Solidarity Center, an AFL-CIO affiliate. “We’ve had no confirmation on whether the government has inspected the facilities, but even culturally, they should close the factory for some time.”
Signs were posted about the factory grounds warning workers to keep away from certain areas. It isn’t clear if the factory had been inspected for occupational safety standards. A Cambodian Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training spokeswoman said provincial authorities were in charge of construction issues, and the government was investigating last week’s collapse.
“We are [going to] strengthen law application, strengthen labor conditions and health inspections and [elaborate] new laws or regulations,” she said.
Industry officials were quick to call last week’s tragedy an isolated incident that did not reflect safety standards in the Southeast Asian kingdom, which is positioning itself as a low-cost alternative to China.
But the Wing Star Shoes collapse may be just the latest occurrence in a series of sometimes fatal incidents that have occurred under the watch of a Taiwanese-registered company that owns at least three factories in Cambodia and is a key supplier to Asics Corp., the Japanese sporting goods manufacturer. Asics has said Wing Star Shoes, which has a checkered workers’ safety record, is the subsidiary of an Asics subsidiary.
Wing Star Shoes shares management and is owned by the same entity as New Stars Shoe Co. Ltd., a Taiwanese footwear manufacturer that supplies Asics, according to the ministry spokeswoman and local activists. The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia’s member directory lists an individual named Chan Kosal as the contact person for New Star Shoes.
The government spokeswoman said the entity that owns Wing Star Shoes and New Star Shoes also owns a factory in Phnom Penh called Dong Bu.
New Star Shoes denied having any commercial relationship with Wing Star Shoes.
According to a report provided to WWD by the CLEC and the Clean Clothes Campaign, there have been two deaths in New Star Shoes factories in the last two years.
New Star Shoes made headlines in 2011 for allegedly using prison labor to make shoes that were exported to Japan. Labor activists have accused the company, which is believed to have between 3,000 and 4,000 employees, of using more than 1,000 child laborers.
Sources said one of the deceased in last week’s Cambodian incident, a female worker, was under the age of 16 and had registered at the factory using forged documents. Asics denies the allegation.