A Change of Guard

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Thursday 26 January 2012

Mass Fainting of Cambodian Garment Workers [U.S and European buyers can no longer turn a blind eye]

A fainted worker get treatment at the hospital.

25 January, 2012
By Joel Preston

CLEC staff yesterday monitored the incidents of fainting at the King First Industrial Co. Ltd factory after yet another spate of mass fainting in Cambodian garment workers. Differing reports indicate that around 50 to 60 workers fainted during their shift before being sent to the Calemette Hospital yesterday morning. Reports further identify the cause as a lack of occupational health and safety concerning an unsealed floor. Reports indicate that cement was laid and layered with a smoothing agent; the fumes from which are said to be linked to around 50 to 60 instances of fainting. The factory in question can currently be linked to more than 9 international buyers and reported an annual turnover of between US$12-16,000,000 in 2009. (http://kingfirst.com.tw/download/King%20First%2009%20company%20profile%20update%2011-24.ppt)

In the same year, King First Industrial confirmed their list of major customers and customer base to include:

"Wal-Mart, Target, Reebok, JC Penny, Urban Outfitters, Simply Vera, Abercrombie & Fitch, Anthropology, Cold Water Creek, Chico's, Catherines, Express, Federated/May Department Store, P.V.H, Hollister, Ruehl, L&T, Cato, George, Bisou Bisou, Greendog, Lane Bryant, Alfant, Charter Club, Metro 7, East 5th and American Rag." (http://kingfirst.com.tw/download/King%20First%2009%20company%20profile%20update%2011-24.ppt)

Shipping records confirm that on the 2nd of January, 2012, King First Industrial Co. Ltd exported 29,821kg of knitted, polyester and ladies garments from Vietnam to Los Angeles. Records further confirm the buyer as Californian import brokerage firm WWW Trading Inc.

The broker confirms they provide an import facilitation service for U.S. buyers, Wal-Mart, Target, Macy's, One Step Up, Golden Touch, JC Penny, Silverware and K-Mart. (http://wwwtradinginc.com/home)

Despite the gargantuan profits being reaped by Cambodian garment factories, their parent companies and international buyers alike, King First Industrial Co. Ltd seems unable to provide their workers with a safe and healthful working environment. Contraventions of occupational health and safety expectations are interrelated to the pitiful wages that these workers receive. Human Rights Groups recognise inadequate wages as an; if not the most; central factor contributing to mass fainting epidemics; such as the one yesterday at King First Industrial. The minimum wage for a Cambodian garment worker currently stands at the microscopic amount of $61 per month. Civil society research indicates that the current minimum wage is $14 below the minimum monthly cost of living. As such, an alarming number of workers are unable eat the requisite calories required per day or get adequate sleep; to be afforded, the rent for a single room must be shared between as many as 7 workers who must further cut costs on utilities. These "luxuries" must be substituted with more overtime to meet their expenses. As a consequence the health of Cambodian garment workers rapidly decreases making them extremely susceptible to fumes and vapors from chemical substances, increased temperatures on the factory floor and even merely watching other workers lose consciousness.

King First Industrial's headquarters are based in Taiwan, yet it operates two garment production facilities in Cambodia, as well as another Chinese factory. In 2009, the company reported its combined Cambodian operations had turned over US$28,000,000 throughout the year. During this period the company confirmed its 1700 Cambodian workers had produced around 560,000 garments. In 2009, Chinese operations contributed only 70,000 garments for the year. (http://kingfirst.com.tw/download/King%20First%2009%20company%20profile%20update%2011-24.ppt)

The company's Cambodian floor wage expenses for 2009 could be very roughly estimated at US$1,250,000. The company's annual turnover after floor wage expenses could hence be estimated at around US$26,750,000 for that period. Garment factories, buyers and international brands push these underpaid, undernourished workers to exhaustion at the thought of another million, whilst these women shiver at the thought of their next meal. If the company in question was to provide its Cambodian workers with the recognized "living wage" of $93 per month and bring its factory into line with basic OH&S expectations, their annual turnover minus these expenses could still be roughly estimated at around US$26,000,000. How great must the profits be before these women are guaranteed safe and equitable working conditions?

After the pandemic of mass fainting in Cambodian factories in 2011, Asian Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) and Asia Floor Wage-Cambodia (AFW-C) have invited international brands Puma, Adidas, H & M and GAP to account for their actions at the People's Tribunal on Minimum Wages, but the issue permeates the entire global industry. We invite all multi-stakeholders in Phnom Penh to attend the Tribunal on the 5th and 6th of February 2012, as well as those abroad to consider the consequences of their purchases. It is extremely disconcerting that this issue is rearing its head once more. With over 500 international brands sourcing cheap garments and cheap labor from Cambodia, their customers need to hold them accountable with their voices and their wallets.

For Tribunal information please see:
AFW-C constituents: Cambodia Confederation of Trade Unions (CCTU), Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), Cambodian National Confederation (CNC), Cambodia Women Movement Organisation (CWMO), National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia (NACC), Cambodian Confederation Unions(CCU), Cambodia Worker Center for Development (CWCD), Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) and the American Center For International Labor Solidarity (ACILS)

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