News / Asia

Cambodia Factory Owners Face Pressure on Safety

Workers gather during their strike in front of a factory owned by Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing in Kampong Speu province, west of the capital, Phnom Penh, May 30, 2013.
Workers gather during their strike in front of a factory owned by Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing in Kampong Speu province, west of the capital, Phnom Penh, May 30, 2013.
Robert Carmichael
Earlier this month two Cambodian garment workers died and more than 30 were injured when sections of two factories collapsed. The accidents came amid increased scrutiny of the global garment industry following the building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,100 workers. Factory owners in Cambodia are now under pressure to ensure the safety of their premises.

A letter went out this week to 500 garment and shoe-manufacturing factories in Cambodia advising them to hire inspectors to check the structural integrity of all their buildings.

The letter came from the U.N.’s International Labor Organization, the ILO, and the trade body GMAC, which represents factory owners. Through its Better Factories Cambodia program, the ILO monitors conditions at about 430 factories employing more than 400,000 workers.

Cambodian rescuers work at the site of a factory collapse in Kai Ruong village, south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 16, 2013.Cambodian rescuers work at the site of a factory collapse in Kai Ruong village, south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 16, 2013.
x
Cambodian rescuers work at the site of a factory collapse in Kai Ruong village, south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 16, 2013.
Cambodian rescuers work at the site of a factory collapse in Kai Ruong village, south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 16, 2013.
Shoddy construction is being blamed for building collapses that killed two workers and injured dozens. The GMAC and the ILO told factory owners that worker safety and the industry’s integrity is at stake, and said it is in the industry’s interests to act now.

Jason Judd, a technical adviser with the ILO, says some factories have already agreed to the proposal.

"The leverage for change in these factories rests first with those buyers but ultimately with the Cambodian government. The buyers, they wield considerable influence over the factories. We think that factories that are really pushed by their buyers are more likely to go ahead with these inspections," said Judd.

Vital industry

Cambodia’s garment manufacturing industry is central to the economy, and is worth nearly $5 billion a year. It is by far the country’s largest export earner and its biggest formal employer. The three key stakeholders in Cambodia’s garment manufacturing industry are the government; the companies that own the factories - most of which come from China, Korea and Taiwan - and the buyers, including global brands such as Nike, Adidas and WalMart.

​Dave Welsh, the country director at the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, a non-profit affiliated with the U.S.-based labor movement, cites a recent report by Better Factories Cambodia that found 14 percent of factories surveyed lock their fire exits, up from 1 percent two years ago. And 41 percent of factories do not bother to hold a fire drill every six months.

"You are dealing with in global terms a handful of factories and a very lucrative industry. So simply ensuring that fire escapes are in place, that the structures of those 400 export factories are up to international standards is well within the means of not just the government but the brands and the factories to do so.  But as we saw by recent ILO findings, it seems that disasters are waiting to happen. And now is the time," he said.

Ken Loo, the secretary-general of the trade body GMAC, says most of his members will follow GMAC’s advice and get their buildings checked in due course.

“It’s not about when factories need to do it by - it’s more like, look this is an area that if you are a member you should be concerned about - and therefore they should pay attention," he said.

Enforcement issue

In February the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia program itself came under criticism on the grounds that it lacks transparency and cannot enforce its findings.

Speaking via Skype, Ben Hensler, the deputy director of the Workers’ Rights Consortium, said the ILO made a mistake when in 2006 it agreed not to publicize its findings.

“Because we think that the only way that conditions improve is through having some transparency and for factories and buyers to know that if they're not meeting standards of keeping workers safe that the public is going to know about that and their reputations are going to be affected," Hensler said.

The ILO's Jason Judd said the group recognizes the need for change and plans to roll out a revised program  later this year.

“We’re still working on the details, but public disclosure is going to be targeted so that it drives improvements in factories that are really chronic violators of the law, and also helps drive improvements on issues like fire safety," he said.

But Judd stressed that the responsibility for success ultimately lies with those who have the power to make those changes: the factories, the brands and the Cambodian government.

VOA Bangkok Correspondent Daniel Schearf contributed to this report.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid