On 2 July 2015, 38 garment workers fainted at the Quint Major International factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The unexplained mass fainting wasn’t the first – and it won’t be the last. In a week alone in August 2015, 400 workers fainted in four factories in Cambodia. And the Ministry of Labour in Cambodia recorded that more than 1,800 workers fainting across the garment industry in 2014.
The mass fainting phenomenon – which reached its peek in 2011 – is still a mystery. Experts from the International Labour Organisation recently concluded that they were caused by a combination of reasons – including poor nutrition, low ventilation and mass psychogenic illness experienced by the workers.
Quint Major International produces sportswear for sport giants such as Adidas and New Balance. As other leading brands in the sports industry, such as Nike and Puma, Adidas and New Balance are outsourcing their production to local employers in various Asian countries which are often characterized low wages, poor working conditions and regulrly unenorced labour laws. These are the characteristics of production in Cambodia and countries such as China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Vietnam in which the big sports giants make billion and billion of dollars. The workers in Cambodia – however – make the minimum wage, 128 US dollars a month in 2015, working six days a week. And the salary comes after 60 hours work a week.
“You have to understand: the majority of the factory owners, I would say 95 percent, are foreing and are not in Cambodia to develop the country. Or to make significant investments. Or are focused on the workers welfare. They are here to make a profit – as the global garment industry is currently set up,” William Conklin says to Sport Executive.
He is country director at Solidarity Center in Cambodia. An organisation that assists workers around the world who are struggling to achieve safe and healthy workplaces, family-supporting wages, social protections and a voice on the job.
It is not a pleasant life
Family-supporting wages aren’t common in the garment industry in Cambodia. The country is the garment industry’s new Bangladesh.
A survey by Cambodian Organisation for Research and Development, conducted in September 2015, says: A minimum wage at 128 US dollars a month does not come near what workers monthly expenditures are. According to the study a regular garment worker in Phnom Penh spend a median of 207.5 US dollars a month to live an ordinary but poor life.
“It is not a pleasant life to be a garment worker in Cambodia. Most of the workers in the industry are migrant workers from other parts of Cambodia. They have to send money home to the family. So they live in crowded rooms, very hot and often with only one toilet,” William Conklin says.
“The prices in Phnom Penh are high. They are more expensive than in other areas of Cambodia – and the industrial areas with garment factories where a lot of the migrant workers live, prices can be near that of Phnom Penh,” William Conklin explains.
According to statistical data at “Numbeo.com” the cost of living in Phnom Penh even is higher than that of Beijing. And it’s also more expensive to live in Cambodia’s capital than Czech Republic’s capital city, Prague.
140 US dollars in 2016
And it is here, in Phnom Penh, 700,000 workers haves to make a living for themselves and provide for their family back home in Cambodia’s provinces – in a billion dollars industry that made 5.7 billion US dollars in 2014. To make a living for a minimum wage at 128 US dollars a month is difficult. Therefore a tangle of unions for weeks has been negotiating a new minimum wage with employers and the state. According to Cambodian press a lot of the unions began with a demand of he 207.5 US dollars level from the study mentioned above. The employers offered four percent salary increase. On 8 October the Labour Ministry fixed the issue:
“The minimum wage for workers at textile and footwear industries for 2016 has been officially set at 140 US dollars per month,” a statement from the Labour Ministry says.
Still not enough to secure a decent life in Phnom Penh. In the meantime the sport giants such as Nike, Adidas and Puma still earn billions in Cambodia. The world’s biggest firm in the sport industry, Nike, had alone a turnover worldwide of 30,601 million dollars and a profit of 3,273 million dollars for the year ended 31 May 2015.
Profit before tax and turnover 2014:
Nike: 3,066 – 28,661
Adidas: 835 – 14,534
Puma: 122 – 1,385
Nike’s account is for the year ended 31 May 2015. Adidas and Puma for 2014.
Source: Nike, Adidas and Puma.
GARMENT INDUSTRY IN CAMBODIA
The textile industry exports for an amount of 5.7 billion US dollars in 2014.
95 percent of all exports are garments.
The industry account for 13 percent of Cambodia’s total GDP.
700,000 people work in the industry; 90 percent of the workers are female.
The minimum wage in 2016 will be 140 US dollars per month.