Cambodia’s garment workers are working themselves to death—literally, according to IndustriAll Global Union, a labor-rights group that supports 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy, and manufacturing sectors. Unrelenting hours, close quarters, and chronic malnutrition as a result of “poverty pay,” have contributed to a near-epidemic of mass faintings in factories across the Southeast Asian nation. Now, workers are actually dying at work, says Sokny Say, a member of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, an IndustriAll affiliate.
TO DIE FOR
“2014 is remarkable because while we have had many cases of mass faintings in the past, this is the first year that people have died,” Say says in a statement. “We must not become immune to the fact that so many garment workers are collapsing in the factories. It can be a precursor to death.”
Two workers employed at factories outside Phnom Penh died at the end of July. Nov Pas, a 35-year-old seamstress who spent four years making clothes for Western brands such as Gap and Old Navy, lost consciousness at her post in the Korean-owned Sangwoo factory at 8 a.m. on July 24. By 9 a.m., she had been admitted to the nearest provincial hospital, where she was pronounced dead about nine hours later.
Despite cases of mass faintings in the past, 2014 marks the first time garment workers have died on the job.
Garment worker Vorn Tha, 44, collapsed and died at the New Archid factory, which manufactures clothing for H&M, after working 13-hour days.
A third garment worker, employed at Cambo Kotop, a factory in Phnom Penh, died in March, IndustriAll adds.
“This sinister development of workers collapsing at work and then dying cannot go unchallenged,” says Jyrki Raina, IndustriAll’s general secretary. “Poverty wages mean that garment workers cannot afford to eat properly and a lack of food, long hours and intolerable factory conditions are proving a lethal combination.”
Raina calls for an increase in the Cambodian monthly minimum wage, which currently stands at $61—or 25 percent of what constitutes a living wage in the country.
“We continue to back Cambodian unions’ demands for a raise in the minimum wage so garment workers can afford enough food to live on and no longer have to work such punishing overtime hours to survive,” Raina says.