Mass fainting at Cambodian garment factories renews concerns

Weavers operate wooden handlooms to produce silk at a mill in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on June 27, 2015.
Weavers operate wooden handlooms to produce silk at a mill in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on June 27, 2015. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Nearly 200 Cambodian garment workers have been hospitalised after a new spate of mass fainting at factories this week, officials said Wednesday, renewing concerns about conditions in the kingdom's crucial textile industry.

At least 61 workers at a factory in southern Takeo province fainted on Wednesday Cheav Bunrith, a spokesman for the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), told AFP.

Those faintings came after 89 employees at a factory in Kandal province collapsed over the course of Monday and Tuesday.

A further 36 workers also fainted at a factory on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh Tuesday morning, Bunrith said "Some workers bought small, fermented shrimps to eat during lunch and they then felt headache and dizziness and fainted," he told AFP in reference to the mass collapsing of 61 workers in Takeo.

"Other workers were scared and also fainted one after another," he added.

About 700,000 workers provide the backbone of Cambodia's multi-billion dollar garment industry - which supplies brands including Gap, Nike and H&M and is a key source of foreign income for the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

Safety worries are rife with periodic mass fainting episodes often blamed on poor health, poor working conditions, bad ventilation or exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Psychologists also say episodes of mass hysteria can be contagious, with crowds of people suddenly feeling ill once others start to show symptoms - especially if they work in high pressured environments.

Cambodian labour groups say more needs to be done to improve worker conditions.

"Worker faintings at work is still a serious concerns among us," Chea Mony, head of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTU), told AFP.

"The government and employers fail to take care of workers' health," he added.

Disputes over wages, safety and conditions in Cambodia's lucrative garment industry are frequent and sometimes turn violent.