July 22, 2011

Report finds widespread violations at Puma factory in Cambodia

[Monster & Critics]

Phnom Penh - An independent report commissioned by German sportswear giant Puma AG has uncovered an array of violations of national law, international practices and the company's own rules at a Cambodian subcontractor.

Fair Labor Association (FLA), a US-based non-profit group, was asked to investigate conditions at the Huey Chuen factory in Phnom Penh after more than 200 workers apparently fainted over a two-day period in April.

Huey Chuen, which employs 3,300 workers, has since 2006 made shoes for Puma, the world's third-biggest sporting goods maker after US-based Nike and Germany's Adidas.

The report, which was released July 18, said there was 'a strong possibility' that fainting and illness were due to chemicals, adding that excessive overtime also was likely a contributing factor.

Among a litany of breaches, the investigation found Huey Chuen used 'multiple hazardous chemicals.'

One such chemical was toluene, which Puma explicitly bans its subcontractors from using. The US government's Environmental Protection Agency says the solvent damages the central nervous system and may cause miscarriages or developmental problems for unborn children.

Most of Cambodia's garment workers are young women.

The FLA report also found that pregnant women were working 'excessive overtime' and were exposed to chemicals that could cause foetal damage.

Puma confirmed Friday that 78 workers at the factory were pregnant and another 34 were nursing.

The report noted that Huey Chuen employees were unaware of the dangers of chemicals and lacked suitable protective gear, yet found 'testing was difficult as the investigators could not get close to the workers due to the excessive fumes in some areas.'

Among dozens of failings, investigators found no training program for new staff, excessive overtime of up to 130 hours in the preceding four-week period, unclear wage deductions, an inadequate health and safety program, no fire safety plan, and sick leave deducted from annual leave.

Puma said Friday it fully accepted the report9s findings.

'Puma is committed in following up every action point in the Corrective Action Plan with the factory in question,' spokeswoman Kerstin Neuber told the German Press Agency dpa by email.

She said Puma staff had inspected the Huey Chuen factory regularly over the past five years, adding that it had 'a long history of borderline passing (of labour audits), 85 per cent on average.'

Puma blamed problems in part on a lack of institutional support for health and safety in footwear manufacture, although the firm said it was working with the Cambodian government to improve that.

The FLA said Huey Chuen had agreed to a 'comprehensive and robust' plan to fix all problems, including agreement to no longer use toluene. Huey Chuen also had pledged to let an independent company test chemical levels, but that could take time since no local firm had that capability.

The manufacture of garments and shoes is Cambodia's largest foreign exchange earner and employs around 300,000 workers. Last year Cambodia exported 3 billion dollars' worth of garments, most of it to the United States and the European Union.

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