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Sunday, April 10, 2011

RPT-Cambodia probes mass fainting of workers at Puma suppliers

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH, April 10 (Reuters) - Cambodian authorities began an investigation on Sunday into the mass fainting of about 800 workers at two factories that produce footwear for German sporting goods group Puma .

Workers suddenly fell sick on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning at Universal Apparel (Cambodia) Co Ltd and Huey Chuen (Cambodia) Corp Ltd, which labour officials and workers identified as suppliers to Puma.

"I was just feeling exhausted and dizzy," Keopich Panha, a hospitalised 19-year-old shoe stitcher at Huey Chuen.

Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naruth told Reuters his officers and the Labour Ministry were investigating the factories, where workers such as Keopich Panha typically earn about $61 a month.

"It could have been the workers were too tired. We will also look at work environment issues and whether there was enough air or oxygen," he added. "We don't know the conclusion yet."

Worker Soeum Ny, 24, said the smell from materials used in the manufacturing of sport shoes may have made workers sick.

"We are used to it now. This affects our health but there is nothing we can do," she said.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour unit at the nonprofit Community Legal Education Center, said mass fainting is a problem in Cambodia's textile industry because rules requiring factories to be monitored are not enforced.

"The government has to strictly monitor these factories," Moeun Tola said.

Garment manufacturing is Cambodia's third-biggest currency earner after agriculture and tourism. More than 210,000 textile workers went on strike last year over the government's attempt to regulate trade unions.

Cambodian factories produce clothes for many Western brands, including Gap Inc , Nike Inc and Inditex Group , the world's biggest clothing retailer and owner of Zara.

Officials at Puma were not immediately available to comment. (Editing by Jason Szep and Miral Fahmy)
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