Nearly 300 Cambodian workers at a factory that manufactures clothing for H&M mysteriously took ill this week, according to a Reuters report on Thursday. At least 284 employees collapsed on Tuesday and Thursday at M&V International Manufacturing in Kompong Chhang province, 56 miles away from Phnom Penh, with some reporting a pungent odor before fainting. “Workers smelled something bad coming from the shirts,” Norn Leakhena, a worker at the factory, tells the news agency. Officials are blaming the faintings on the “weak” health of the workers, noting that the factory will be suspending operations until next week to allow its 4,000 workers to rest. H&M is investigating the faintings, but said that the government, local authorities, and UN’s International Labour Organization have found no “plausible causes so far.”
A WIDER EPIDEMIC?
The M&V incident isn’t an isolated one, however. H&M says it’s consulting with state agencies, workers, and third-party inspectors to uncover what happened after 300 workers fell sick at a separate facility in Phnom Penh in July. But human-rights organizations are blaming the faintings on forced overtime on meager salaries that sustain hundreds of thousands of rural poor.
Human-rights organizations are blaming the faintings on forced overtime on meager salaries that sustain hundreds of thousands of rural poor.
In April, after Reuters reported 104 faintings over a two-day period at a Puma footwear factory, the sports giant commissioned an independent query from the Washington-based Fair Labor Association. Following its analysis, which concluded that chemical exposure, poor ventilation, and exhaustion were “strong possibilities” for the spate of illnesses, Puma initiated a plan that limited work hours to 60 per week.
Whether the same causes are behind the M&V situation remains to be seen, but anecdotal evidence points in that direction. “In the beginning, the smell was fine but after years, workers can’t take anymore,” Leakhena, the M&V factory worker, says.