July 26, 2011

Second fainting incident at Puma factory in Cambodia sparks alarm

[Monster and Critics]

Phnom Penh - German sportswear manufacturer Puma AG has said the hospitalization of 49 workers who fainted at the factory of a Cambodian subcontractor was being taken 'very seriously.'

Monday's incident came weeks after more than 200 workers fainted over a two-day period in April at the same Huey Chuen factory in Phnom Penh, prompting Puma to commission an independent report into working conditions.

A report into the April faintings by US-based non-profit group Fair Labor Association (FLA), found an array of violations of national law, international practices and Puma's own rules.

The investigation found 'multiple hazardous chemicals' in use at Huey Chen, including 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.

FLA concluded there was 'a strong possibility' that the April faintings were due to chemicals, adding that excessive overtime was also likely a contributing factor.

The investigation also documented unclear wage deductions, an inadequate health and safety programme, no fire safety plan, and cases of sick days being deducted from annual leave at the factory.

On Friday, Puma said it fully accepted the findings of the report, and has since implemented a comprehensive programme to improve practices and working conditions at Huey Chuen.

Spokeswoman Kerstin Neuber said Monday the firm was also considering providing meals for workers.

She added that 'the workers' situation in Cambodian factories - in the footwear as well as in the garment industry - is problematic in general and not limited to Puma production facilities.'

She said that the firm would work with industry peers to find solutions to the problems.

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

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, mostly to the United States and the European Union.

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