PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Almost 400 workers fainted in four separate garment factories this week across Cambodia, with the bulk of it occurring Thursday in the early morning.
According to Cheav Bunrith, a representative from the Ministry of Labor’s National Social Security Fund, about 38 workers in the Quint Major Industrial factory in Kandal province collapsed en masse at around 8:30 a.m.
“The workers fainted because they had weak health. First they were dizzy, then they had problems breathing, and then they felt no energy in their arms and legs,” Bunrith said, adding that workers affected were taken to nearby clinics. “For the check-up and medical expenses, the NSSF will take care of the expense.”
The other factories that experienced a similar mass fainting phenomenon were CN Prosperous Garment factory and Crystal Martin Factory in the capital, Phnom Penh, where 52 workers and 14 workers collapsed, respectively; and Vonammy Garment Factory, where 94 people were affected.
Thursday’s incident was the second one this week for the CN Prosperous Garment factory, and the third one for the Quint Major Industrial factory.
Bunrith blamed the rash of mass faintings this week on some workers’ lack of sleep and unhealthy diets.
“And then when other workers saw those people faint, it made them nervous so even more people fainted,” he said, adding that his department is checking each factory to ensure that there are no chemical substances being used in the clothing production.
“If we find any problems in the factory, like with chemicals in the production or with anything that impacts the health standards of the factory, we will shut down the production process,” Bunrith said.
Cambodia’s $6.2 billion garment sector, which employs more than 700,000 workers, suffers frequently from mass faintings, which usually occur around the hot season beginning in April. According to the International Labor Organization, the faintings occur for a range of reasons, including poor ventilation, poor nutrition, and mass hysteria among workers.
In recent years, labor activists have argued that the country’s monthly minimum wage – currently $128 a month – is indirectly to blame for the faintings, as workers often do not have enough money for nutritious food, opting instead for unhealthy meals. Activists also believe that workers are choosing to work long overtime hours to pad their monthly minimum wages, resulting in feeling exhaustion in overheated factories.