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?!?