Home / General / Different Nations Have Different Standards for Fainting and Heat Exhaustion in Factories–And That’s OK!

Different Nations Have Different Standards for Fainting and Heat Exhaustion in Factories–And That’s OK!


Clearly, supply chains with no accountability for the parent companies who create a system where they get cheap exploitable labor with no legal consequences is a great thing….

Women working in Cambodian factories supplying some of the world’s best-known sportswear brands are suffering from repeated mass faintings linked to conditions.

Over the past year more than 500 workers in four factories supplying to Nike, Puma, Asics and VF Corporation were hospitalised. The most serious episode, recorded over three days in November, saw 360 workers collapse. The brands confirmed the incidents, part of a pattern of faintings that has dogged the 600,000-strong mostly female garment workforce for years.

The Observer and Danwatch, a Danish investigative media group, interviewed workers, unions, doctors, charities and government officials in the country’s garment industry, worth $5.7bn in 2015.

The women who collapsed worked 10 hour days, six days a week and reported feeling exhausted and hungry. Excessive heat was also an issue in three factories, with temperatures of 37C. Unlike in neighbouring Vietnam, where factory temperatures must not exceed 32C, Cambodia sets no limit, though if temperatures reach a “very high level” causing difficulties for workers, employers must install fans or air conditioning.

According to unions, short-term contracts – common for workers in three of the factories – were also a key source of stress and exhaustion.

The minimum monthly wage in Cambodia is £120 and two hours’ overtime a day boosts it to between £150 and £190, depending on the factory. Wages vary, but none of the four factories pays the “living wage”, which in Cambodia is £300 a month, according to the workers’ rights alliance Asia Floor Wage.

Bent Gehrt, south-east Asia field director for the Worker Rights Consortium, which monitors factories making clothing for US universities, said: “There is no proper investment in an adequate working environment and no investment in the living wage. If workers are fainting, it should be a clear indication you need to do something more drastic.”

Short-term contracts were a “root cause” of job insecurity, he added, meaning people cannot refuse overtime: “Workers say if you don’t do overtime, you won’t get your contract renewed.”

But Nike is providing these Cambodian women with the wondrous benefits of global capitalism! Anyone who wants these workers to not faint is anti-feminist! Why oh why can’t I see the glories of this system instead of arguing for a legal system that allows these workers the potential to improve their lives?!?

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  • Dilan Esper

    We went through a period of awful working conditions in industrializing too, Erik, and ultimately fixed those problems. So did Japan and Korea and Taiwan.

    Keeping Cambodians in agricultural poverty forever and denying them the route rich nations took to prosperity is pretty selfish.

    • Yes, clearly there is no route to industrialization outside of western corporations killing people because of easily fixable working conditions. Why bother with making sure Cambodian workers don’t die, it’s their historical destiny!

    • JDM

      The notion that each country has to go through the same crap as other countries learned from is nonsensical, Dilan. Skipping steps (for instance starting out wireless or solar instead of installing massive, long, power lines everywhere) is sensible. In fact to not skip these mistakes is to be stupid.

      • cpinva

        “In fact to not skip these mistakes is to be stupid.”

        i believe the correct response to Dilan’s assertion is self-evident. no dumbass, we only went through that process because someone else hadn’t gone through it before us, and shown us a better way.

        i don’t purchase any of those brands mentioned, and i make it a point to check the source country, when i am looking at clothes. all that said, i am still probably contributing to the problem, no matter how careful i may be. the solution is to make it no longer a problem.

    • Linnaeus

      Fixing those problems required not a small amount of activism to do.

      • dogboy

        Or not fixing, as recent reporting has shown. As Loomis likes to point out, supply chains have to be the responsibility of the user-
        “California’s port truckers make it possible for the Walmarts and Amazons of the world to function. Even so, most of the two dozen retail companies contacted by the USA TODAY Network declined to comment, some saying they had never heard of the rash of labor violations at their primary ports of entry.”

        • Linnaeus

          It takes multiple approaches, to be sure. My point was that when and if these problems get fixed, it’s because the problem gets identified and people act to do something about it. It’s not some abstract thing that “just happens” on the road to modernity.

          • cpinva

            “It’s not some abstract thing that “just happens” on the road to modernity.”

            very few things “just happen”, on the road to anywhere.

      • DrDick

        A lot of blood, as well.

    • “We ultimately fixed this problem” by forcing companies to adhere to better working conditions which is what Erik is calling for now, only on a global level, so your response is actually no argument against what he ‘s saying.

      • Precisely! Corporations didn’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts.

    • PhoenixRising

      Before you attempt to engage with this complex issue using clearly inadequate tools, I’d suggest:
      -Learn what economists mean when they use the phrase ‘advantage of backwardness’
      -Watch a film called ‘A River Changes Course’

      In about 2 hours, which is a lot less time than Loomis has invested in his area of expertise, you could know enough to realize why everyone is mocking you!

    • Lurks

      I think the previous commenters (including the snarky one) are missing the point.

      1) Capital is going to to go where the labor is cheapest
      2) Americans (and everyone else) as a whole don’t give a fuck about the conditions their stuff is made under as long as it is cheap.

      For instance, I notice that we’re all using computers assembled in Chinese factories that are some combination of toxic and oppressive, with individual components being made in the same, and rare elements mined in awful conditions, and old computers disposed of in equally awful setups. I doubt any of our commenters are going to give up their current computer and raid a museum so that they can use a computer made in a more humane US factory. And good luck finding a cabinet-mounted tape drive that has USB compatibility…

      We’re addicted to cheap and as long as the people being hurt by that cheap talk funny and live and work out of sight, we’re cool with it. And as someone with two Mac’s on his desk and closet and dressers filled with China, Malaysia, Phillipines and Haiti labels, I’m sadly part of the “we”.

      Given that no developed nation has to my knowledge, banned Nike’s, Apple’s or Levi’s because of the conditions they are made under, I’m curious as to whether anyone has any suggestions that do not involve unicorn farts (or global cooperation, which is even rarer) as a key component.

      • Linnaeus

        There’s been a book written about it.

        • Lurks

          Great! Problem solved! So then…why are we still talking about it?

          • Linnaeus

            The problem isn’t solved. It’s still going on. You asked if anyone had any suggestions, and I pointed you toward a source.

            • Lurks

              Sorry. It’s not that I don’t agree with a lot of the things that -could- work if implemented, I’m just pessimistic about ever seeing the grand conjunction needed to -get- them implemented.

              • Linnaeus

                Oh, that I can totally understand.

    • There are two issues here. I do agree that Cambodians should have access to outsourced jobs and that they shouldn’t be kept in agricultural poverty forever.Their salaries will be far smaller than their European and North-American counterparts(Specially if you consider cost of living and currency), and that’s fine.

      On the other hand, Western brands that profit from their labor should be held accountable for their working conditions and that consumers should pressure them to at least provide safe working conditions to these workers.

      • PhoenixRising

        “Cambodians should have access to outsourced jobs and that they shouldn’t be kept in agricultural poverty forever.”

        But in our current system this is not an applicable dichotomy. With globalization, Cambodians get BOTH the disruptions associated with urbanization/agonies of unregulated factory work AND rural peonage…in the same household!

        What a time we live in, truly.

        • In general, these sweatshops are a positive for these low income economies. Countries like Bangladesh have a far higher living standard in the past.

          That does not mean that you can treat them like manure, these workers deserve minimum working conditions. But these sweatshops per se are not that bad.

          • liberalrob

            Before you proclaim that “these sweatshops aren’t that bad” perhaps you should go work in one for a while.

    • DrDick

      Why did I know you would come in to defend this abomination? There is no reason why the developing world has to replicate the process in the West. This is not a natural trajectory (and was not in the West, either) and we do not need to repeat past mistakes.

    • Brett

      Some of these places have been Textile Central for, what, 20-30 years now? It’s not leading to any industrial take-off on its own apparently.

    • Lurking Canadian

      I’m not sure if you intend this to sound as awful as it does. To me it sounds like you are saying the people of Cambodia have literally nothing of value to trade in the global economy than their lives. They could work in safe factories for 300 pounds per month and still be significantly cheaper than Westrrn workers, but it would apparently be “selfish” of us to arrange that? To be a cheap workforce is not enough? Their only hope is to be a cheap, disposable workforce? Is that seriously the position you want to be defending?

  • Gregor Sansa

    The photo is a Guatemalan woman in an L.A. sweatshop.

    • It makes little difference really in terms of what we are talking about here.

      • PhoenixRising

        and yet both Gregor Sansa and I were offended. For different reasons. Win/win.

  • PhoenixRising

    This is an example of why only pressure up the supply chain from the Nordstrom Rack all the way to offices in Guangzhou is the only solution to worker abuse.

    “If temperatures reach a very high level, factory owners must install fans” is a Cambodian classic. The fire marshal accepts only new-looking, clean pictures of Andrew Jackson as your application for an inspection of the factory; small tears or some signs of handling may be accepted on a case-by-case basis, but may result in a delay in processing of your safety certification.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    One area of difficulty is in identifying globally applicable standards, but I think with “hot enough to make a Cambodian faint” we may have found one.

    • PhoenixRising


      Seriously I have a child who does not apparently sweat, except her nose, in temps up to 105F. Says it’s not that hot. She has many (also) Cambodian friends who display this same (I’m gonna go there) sangfroid about extreme heat conditions that make me feel like I’m about to die. (My ancestors hailed from north central Europe, AFAIK.)

  • Brett

    Same old stuff happening again. It’s especially disappointing because Cambodia has actually gotten this right before, in that example you used in your book. They’re the closet thing we have to a model on how this would work in practice.

  • Dr. Acula

    Am I correct to assume that the title of this post is a dig at Matthew Yglesias?

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