By Dene-Hern Chen
with contributions from Cheng Sokhorng
 on October 21, 2014

Takeo Province, Cambodia — At least seven garment workers were injured on Tuesday when the floor of factory producing clothing for Swedish retailer H&M partially collapsed into a water storage unit beneath it.

 

At around 10 a.m., the ground floor of Nishiku Enterprise Co. Ltd, a factory located about 50 miles south of Phnom Penh, abruptly collapsed, causing panic among workers. Several sewing machines tumbled as the concrete floor lurched downward suddenly, knocking workers out or bruising them severely.

 

“Seven people were injured, but it is not serious,” said Chuon Sarith, director of Takeo provincial police’s central bureau. “The floor fell because of the weak foundations of the building.”

 

Oeurn Pich, 46 — who was admitted to the nearby district referral hospital — said that before the collapse, she heard a sharp crack.

 

“I heard a loud sound, like the building was about to fall or something, and then I fell into the ground on dirt. I was surrounded by a cloud of dust, and others fell as well,” she said, adding that the floor had collapsed about 3 meters down. “Now, my leg is injured and I have difficulty breathing.”

 

Sean Sophan, 33, said that she was knocked out by factory machinery when the floor suddenly caved in. “My whole body is in pain because the sewing machine fell onto me.”

 

According to Oeurn Seiha, a union representative at Nishiku, the factory produces pants and skirts for Swedish retail giant H&M. Beneath the ground floor is a storage unit for water that is pumped through the factory, he explained.

 

“I am very upset that this has happened to my members. I feel like it’s been unsafe for a long time,” he added. “Before this floor collapsed, the ground was uneven, like a little bit sunk in.”

 

Oeurn Seiha added that this incident is not the first time Nishiku has had such problems. In April, a wall measuring about 100 meters long and about 8 meters tall collapsed in a different building of the factory, he said.

 

“The whole thing just crashed down onto the toilets and the ironing area. It left one worker injured,” he said. “The foundations in this factory are not sturdy.”

 

With the majority of Cambodia’s garment factories consisting of a single storey, building collapses within the sector are not frequent. However, in May 2013, an overloaded ceiling in a factory producing Asics shoes collapsed onto workers, leaving two dead.

 

Dave Welsh, country of the Solidarity Group — a labor rights organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO — said that the situation at Nishiku could have been much worse, and more needs to be done to ensure the structural safety of garment factories in Cambodia.

 

“People look at industrial accidents [in Cambodia] almost exclusively in the context of workers fainting, but obviously there’s a lot more work that needs to be done about the actual physical integrity of the factories,” Welsh said. “Two in one year is obviously a worrisome sign, especially for factories that are obviously one, or at most two, stories high.”

 

While Sean Sophan still feels terrified about what happened, she said she would return to work because she needs the money; she earns about $130 a month and has to raise her three children.

 

“I still feel scared but I will go back to work because I am so poor and I need this job to support my family,” she said.

 

Nishiku will be temporarily closed following Tuesday’s incident, said a factory representative.

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