Hundreds ill in mass fainting at Cambodian factory

PHNOM PENH Thu Oct 27, 2011 10:26am EDT

PHNOM PENH Oct 27 (Reuters) - More than 200 Cambodian workers have fainted this week at a garment factory producing clothing for Swedish fashion brand Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) (HMb.ST), police said on Thursday.

It was the third case this year of mass fainting at Cambodian factories used by the brand, which expressed concern and said it had already conducted an initial investigation and interviews with workers.

Some 236 staff collapsed on Monday and Thursday at Anful Garments Factory (Cambodia) Ltd, in Kompong Speu province, about 50 km (30 miles) from the capital Phnom Penh, provincial police chief Keo Pisey said.

"They just felt headache and dizziness and were taken to hospitals," Keo Pisey said. He said the factory had been using chemicals to prevent cockroaches from eating garments.

Some 136 workers fell sick on Thursday when staff returned to work after a three-day closure of the factory following illness to about 100 other staff on Monday.

"I was shaking, I couldn't breathe and I vomited. Many people vomited," Chea Chanry, a 29-year-old factory worker, told Reuters.

Some major brands have launched investigations into the fainting of at least 1,200 garment workers this year, many of whom fell ill while toiling for long hours, eking out meagre salaries of about $60 a month that help feed hundreds of thousands of impoverished rural families.

TROUBLED INDUSTRY

The increase in faintings is the latest in a string of setbacks for an industry that grew 28 percent and generated more than $3 billion last year from its 300,000 workers at scores of factories, owned mostly by Chinese and Taiwanese companies.

The sector has been plagued by strikes and demonstrations over working conditions and pay, some of which led to clashes between the mostly female employees and armed riot police.

Faintings have taken place twice already this year at two other suppliers of H&M garments.

About 300 workers collapsed at the Hung Wah textiles factory in Phnom Penh in July and another 284 workers fell ill in August at M&V International Manufacturing Ltd in Kompong Chhnang province.

H&M said it took the incidents seriously, but noted that previous investigations at those factories by the local authorities and Cambodia's government had reached no conclusion on the cause of the faintings.

"The workers' wellbeing is of importance to us, and we are concerned about the situation at the suppliers," H&M said in a response e-mailed to Reuters.

"In all cases, the root causes of the incidents in Cambodia are difficult to establish. Nevertheless, we want to seek findings allowing the identification of root causes and solutions to these discomforting incidents."

Among the big Western firms with clothing produced in Cambodia are Marks and Spencer Group Plc , Tesco Plc , Next Plc and Inditex , the world's biggest clothing retailer and owner of Zara. (Editing by Martin Petty)

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