Faintings raise questions at Cambodia's garment factories

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Faintings raise questions at Cambodia's garment factories

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Faintings raise questions at Cambodia's garment factories

by AFP Videos 2:14 mins

Faintings raise questions at Cambodia's garment factories

by AFP Videos 2:14 mins

SCRIPT: A workers' dormitory in the outskirts of the Cambodian capital. Nearly a thousand people live behind the factories where they work -- with communal toilets, no running water and electricity for just three hours a day. Soey Eao has lived here for five years in a room measuring six square metres, shared with three colleagues. SOUNDBITE 1 Soey Eao (woman), textile worker (Khmer, 14 sec): "I often get headaches and I feel exhausted after working but I try not to think about it because I have to keep working. And when I'm ill, I can't take a day off because I'm frightened of losing money." Some two-thirds of the 650,000 people employed in the clothing industry here work for international brands like H&M and Levi’s. After Bangladesh, Cambodia's one of the cheapest places in the world to make garments. With bonuses and overtime, workers earn about 110 dollars a month. Many work more than the legal limit of 60 hours a week. SOUNDBITE 2 Mouen Tola (man), manager of workers programme at CLEC (Community Legal Education Centre) (English, 18 sec): "They work long hours, they eat less so their brain is not working properly so then they sleep less: sleep less, eat less, work long hours so that's why the result from that, the impact from that is mass faintings happening." The rights group says overwork, heat, and the inhalation of toxic substances led to over 1,000 people fainting at work last year. Discontent is growing. Workers have called a series of strikes, demanding better conditions and higher salaries. But the factory owners insist they're not to blame, saying it's the international brands which pull prices -- and wages -- down. SOUNDBITE 3 Ken Loo (man), Secretary General of GMAC (Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia) (English, 8 sec): "They come, they say, 'This: five dollars. Can you do it?' So they dictate the price - we don't dictate the price at all." Fashion giant H&M says it doesn't own and is therefore not directly responsible for the factories which also produce clothes for many other brands. The company -- like Levi's -- says it's putting pressure on the government to raise the minimum wage. In the meantime, Soey Eao and her colleagues must keep working long hours to bring in enough money to get by. SHOTLIST: PHNOM PENH, FEB 5, 2013, SOURCE: AFPTV - WS ext. dormitory building - Woman cooking - VAR exterior shots of dormitory buildings - Communal toilets - Two men sitting by a fire - Soey Eao enters her room - SOUNDBITE 1 - WS traffic - VAR workers leaving the factory in Vattanac Industrial Park PHNOM PENH, FEB 2011, SOURCE: Meta House for International Labour Organisation - NO RESALE FOR NON-EDITORIAL PURPOSES - VAR workers on sewing machines - CU woman ironing a garment PHNOM PENH, FEB 5, 2013, SOURCE: AFPTV - SOUNDBITE 2 (at Canadia Industrial Park) - VAR trucks entering and leaving a factory at Vattanac Industrial Park - VAR workers PHNOM PENH, FEB 7, 2013, SOURCE: AFPTV - CU GMAC sign - SOUNDBITE 3 PHNOM PENH, FEB 2011, SOURCE: Meta House for International Labour Organisation - NO RESALE FOR NON-EDITORIAL PURPOSES - WS interior of the Suntex plant - VAR workers folding clothes - Workers on sewing machines PHNOM PENH, FEB 5, 2013, SOURCE: AFPTV - VAR Soey Eao and colleague returning home /// -------------------------------------------- AFP TEXT: Cambodia-economy-social-textile,FEATURE Low pay fuels anger among Cambodia's garment workers by Marie Vallerey PHNOM PENH, March 14, 2013 (AFP) - As night falls thousands of weary workers stream from textile factories that fan out across Phnom Penh's outskirts, the clothing industry's desire for cheap labour having created an abundance of jobs. But as the number of international clothes companies tapping into Cambodia's workforce grows, so does anger at the low wages and tough conditions that come with such employment in the global garment industry. Twenty-five-year-old Ou Nin looks exhausted as she describes working for an American clothes brand for just over $5 a day. "They print on T-shirts. The smell is very unpleasant, it is unbearable," she told AFP while waiting for the truck to take her home. Overwork, malnutrition and poor ventilation are to blame for staff fainting in factories since 2010, according to Moeun Tola, program manager at the Community Legal Education Centre, which provides advocacy for workers. "It's often hot inside these factories. Sometimes they inhale toxic substances," he said, adding that last year 1,100 workers are known to have lost consciousness at work while a further 30 fainted in a workshop in mid-January. With bonuses and overtime, workers can earn an average of $110 a month -- a low salary given Cambodia's cost of living that forces many to work beyond the legal limit of sixty hours a week, often at the expense of their health. A series of strikes point to festering discontent -- leaving the big global clothes brands and the factories they subcontract to trade accusations over who is driving salaries down. Protests by workers have also turned ugly. Three women, employees of Puma supplier Kaoway Sports, were wounded when a gunman opened fire on protesters demanding better working conditions at factories in eastern Svay Rieng province in February last year. The shooting prompted Puma, Gap and H&M to express their "deep concern" and urged a thorough investigation. But discontent lingers on the factory floor where 400,000 of the 650,000 people employed in the industry work for foreign firms. Soey Eao, who has worked for five years in the industry, lives in a dormitory behind her factory, paying nearly $20 a month to share a cramped room with three colleagues. Hundreds of workers co-exist in similar spartan concrete lodgings, without water or electricity. "With overtime, I can reach $78 a month. I work twelve hours a day, sometimes seven days in a row to earn more," the 24-year-old says, adding that she sends a third of her salary to her family. "I've already protested for a raise. I cannot even eat well because I'm trying to put money aside, I just buy the minimum to survive." Soey Eao is hopeful her situation may change with her union pushing to boost the minimum wage from its current level of $60 a month to around $100. But while strikes have turned up the heat on factory owners and international brands, she says many workers still "do not even know they have rights." -- Wages driven lower -- ------------------------ The International Labour Office (ILO), which regularly inspects textile mills in the country, has called for a new industrial agreement between the government, factory owners and unions. "Clearly there is some room for additional payment", says the ILO's Jill Tucker noting that after Bangladesh, Cambodia is one of the cheapest places to make garments. Cambodia's factory owners say the problem is not of their making and blame the profit margins of foreign brands for driving down wages. "If our wages were comparable to Vietnam, would investors come to Cambodia? No way," said Ken Loo, secretary-general of Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia. "They (buyers) are the ones who set the margin, not us," he said, warning that if Cambodia raises the minimum wage it would "have to be prepared for what comes after," hinting that companies may choose to relocate. Several big brands contacted by AFP however denied they were cutting wages. Swedish fashion giant H&M, which last October was forced to deny accusations that it encouraged "slave-like" wages at a subcontractor's factory, said it was not directly responsible for the factories producing its garments. "H&M does not own any factories and therefore does not set or pay factory workers' wages," said spokesman Malin Bjorne, adding Cambodia's factories produce for many brands. "The employees at a factory are paid the same wages regardless of which brand they are producing garments for -- and regardless of what the final price will be in the store." Kris Marubio, a representative of US jeansmaker Levis Strauss & Co, meanwhile stressed his company backs a fair wage providing a "standard of living adequate for their (workers') personal health and well-being as well as that of their family".

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