SINGAPORE — A garment factory in Cambodia that produces for Nike Inc suffered from a second spell of mass faintings in three days as 198 workers collapsed today, observers said.
This follows an incident Wednesday when 107 workers fainted at the premises of the factory, which is located in Kompong Speu Province, just outside the capital of Phnom Penh, and run by Taiwanese-owned Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Mfg. Corp. Separately toay, at least 20 workers fainted at the Phnom Penh-based Mirae Apparel factory, the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), a Cambodian advocacy group reported.
“We are very concerned by this. It’s not good for the factory or the industry in terms of production loss or reputation,” said Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), in a phone interview. He said that the GMAC, of which Sabrina is a member, is undertaking efforts to help factories combat mass faintings. Ryan Greenwood, Nike Inc.’s U.K. spokesman wasn’t reachable today, which is a holiday in the U.K. Mirae Apparel couldn’t be reached for comment.
The cause behind the mass faintings is disputed. Loo said that initial indications suggest they were due to “fumes or bad chemical smells” emitted as Sabrina was refurbishing part of its factory floor, while a government official told the Phnom Penh Post that Wednesday’s faintings were possibly caused by a poisonous chemical used to manufacture gloves in another section of the factory.
Mouen Tola, head of CLEC’s Labor Program Unit, said that a CLEC investigation was ongoing but he suspected the recent spate of mass faintings was due to overworked employees as factories push their workers to complete more orders prior to the Khmer New Year holidays, which run from April 13 to 16. Forced overtime has been cited by numerous workers rights’ advocates as a reason behind the series of mass faintings that have afflicted Cambodia’s $4 billion garment and footwear export industry over the past year.
GMAC’s Loo denied this. “Khmer New Year occurs every year and Sabrina has been here for more than 10 years. It would be stupid and unbelievable for them not to plan a schedule ahead of time,” he said.
It was not clear why the factory was in operation today: The Phnom Penh Post reported that government officials had ordered that the factory be closed for two days on Thursday in order to clean up the ventilation system.
“Sabrina allowed workers to stay home yesterday [after Wednesday’s faintings] but they were asked to come back today,” said Tola in a phone interview. “They worked and then collapsed again.” Contacted after working hours today, the Cambodian Ministry of Labour & Vocational Training declined to make officials available for comment. Loo was not able to comment on this matter.