Mass faintings raise questions in VF Corp, Nike, Asics and Puma factories in Cambodia
In the past year alone, over 500 female workers in four Cambodian garment factories have been hospitalized due to fainting spells brought on by long hours, hunger and extreme temperatures.
According to the investigation, carried out by the Observer in collaboration with Danish media group Danwatch, 28 people collapsed while trying to escape during a fire in a Nike factory. 150 passed out in a Puma factory in March while trying to escape from a furnace fire that spread black smoke laden with chemicals through the factory. A 28 year old worker was found unconscious after two hours.
In one particularly concerning incident, 360 workers fainted over a three day period in November, it was reported. Temperatures reached over 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 degrees Celsius) in the factories.
Unlike Vietnamese factories which cannot be hotter than 90°F (32°C), Cambodian factories have no set heat limit before fans and air conditioning must be used. Instead, the standard is if there is a "very high level" of heat something should be done to protect workers.
Stress and exhaustion were two other factors reported to cause the mass faintings. Workers in the factories reported 10 hour days. Short term contracts are common which give little financial stability. Additionally, workers must accept overtime when bound by a short term contract for fear their contract will not be renewed.
Wages in Cambodia vary, but they are low. The minimum monthly wage is $150 a month. With two hours of overtime a day, a worker could bring home $200 or even $250 a month depending on how the factory pays. Cambodia's "living wage" is approximately $380 a month. None of the four factories involved pay the living wage.
The factories involved supply Nike, Asics, Puma and VF Corporation. The brands have confirmed the mass faintings and hospitalizations occurred in their factories.
Nike has been proactive about its factory conditions after its sweatshop issues in the 90s. It does not use short term contracts. It also added fire drills and fire safety training. Temperatures cannot exceed 86°F (30°C) per Nike's Code of Conduct.
"We take the issue of fainting seriously, as it can be both a social response and an indication of issues within a factory that may require corrective action," a representative told the British newspaper.
Puma is releasing workers who have worked at their factory for two years from the cycle of short term contracts. After two years, workers will be eligible for more stable income. The company also made recommendations to feed workers energy bars and offer medical exams as well as improve ventilation.
Asics said it was focusing on better ventilation. VF Corporation said it is working with local law enforcement to ensure compliance.
Garment manufacturing in Cambodia is a $7 billion dollar industry. Over 600,000 factory workers are employed. Most are women.
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