At least 23 garment workers were injured today when a structure the workers used for rest breaks collapsed in Cambodia. The collapse comes just days after two workers were killed when a ceiling caved in at a Cambodian shoe factory.
Over the weekend, the owner of the Wing Star Shoe factory said negligence led to the collapse of an overloaded storage bin. He also said in a press conference last week that he does not expect to be prosecuted for the deadly incident. Another Wing Star official called the tragedy “a small incident.” Meanwhile, workers have been told to report back to work, despite government assurances on the day of the tragedy that a full investigation would take place.
“Although Cambodian garment factories have been hailed as providing safer working conditions than those in Bangladesh, that does not constitute a safe industry,” says Solidarity Center Cambodia Country Program Director David Welsh. “Of the 100 factories audited on an ad hoc basis, 25 were found to have safety and health violations,” he said, citing a recent International Labor Organization (ILO) report.
The report found “a worrying increase in fire safety violations,” in which only 57 percent of factories kept paths free of obstructions. The study, part of the ILO’s “Better Factories Cambodia” project, showed a large drop in compliance in fire safety measures, with the number of garment and footwear factories abiding by the legal requirement to keep access paths free of obstructions “unprecedentedly decreasing from 87 percent to 57 percent compliance.”
The ILO findings belie a statement by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia that the factory collapse was a one-time occurrence. A separate report on a pilot project on footwear factories found they were not in compliance with a host of labor standards, especially regarding occupational safety and health. Chemical safety is a special concern, because the use of toxic solvents is much more widespread than it is for clothing.
A spokesman for Wing Star Shoe factory also said the company will pay the cost of the two victims’ funerals and the medical bills of the 14 workers injured. The family of one of the workers killed said she was 15 years old.
Yet the Phnom Penh Post reports that families were told they had to take the amount the company offered or get nothing—and the compensation was significantly less than they had sought.
According to the Post: Rim Rorn, 29, uncle of Rim Roeun, 22, who died in the collapse, said talks between his family and factory representatives had broken down. “The representatives told us to accept their offer . . . or it’s hopeless for us.”
The garment and shoe manufacturing industry is Cambodia’s largest formal employer, with 500,000 workers in more than 500 factories, and generated $4.6 billion in exports in 2012. Most garments and shoes are exported to the United States and the European Union.
The May 16 tragedy follows the April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, where 1,127 garment workers were killed. The eight-story building housed five garment factories and a government inquiry pointed to shoddy construction as the prime trigger of the collapse.