News Column

Cambodia Sweat Shops Get Worse

July 18, 2013

Conditions in Cambodia's garment sector are deteriorating after years of improvement, the International Labor Organization said Thursday, months after a deadly factory collapse.

Nearly 70 of the 152 garment and footwear factories surveyed from November to April failed to conduct biannual emergency fire drills while 24 factories kept emergency exits locked during working hours, the UN agency found.

"Following steady improvement in working conditions from 2005 to 2011, conditions are now declining," said Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for the agency's Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) programme.

"While 25 per cent of the factories featured in this report are new - having had only one assessment - more than half have been monitored by BFC at least five times," she said. "These factories have had many opportunities to correct areas of non-compliance."

Two workers died in May at a factory in the southern province of Kompong Speu after a ceiling collapsed under the weight of boxes of shoes the Taiwan-owned factory was producing for the Japanese sports brand Asics.

Authorities said poor construction caused the collapse.

Other areas where the report noted non-compliance with the country's labour laws included: excessive heat levels, unlabelled chemicals, excessive overtime and employing children under 15.

Cambodia's garment industry employs more than half a million people in a country of 15 million people. According to government figures, its exports totalled 1.5 billion dollars in the first six months of this year.

Strikes are common among workers who complain of poor working conditions and a minimum wage of 75 dollars a month.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said Wednesday that he doubted the report would have much affect on the industry.

"In general, levels of compliance in Cambodia are still considered high," Loo said.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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