One by one, Yan Chornai’s co-workers slumped to the floor of their garment factory in Cambodia’s capital, while producing H&M goods overcome by the sweltering heat, long shifts and choking stench of chemicals.
The exact cause of the sudden illness overcoming about 300 workers at the Hung Wah textiles factory this week is unclear. The factory owners have said nothing as dozens of employees like Yan Chornai were being treated in hospital.
“I looked around me and everyone was collapsing, everyone was scared and crying,” Yan Chornai, 23, said from her hospital bed, hooked to an intravenous drip.
The faintings at Hung Wah, which produces clothing for Western brands including H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, were not isolated incidents, but part of a growing trend in the “sweat shops” that provide vital revenue for one of Asia’s poorest countries.
In another Phnom Penh factory, King Fashion Garment, around 300 people fell ill over two days early last month for reasons still unknown.
Some of the big brands have launched investigations into what non-governmental organisations say are more than 1,000 faintings this year by garment workers while toiling for long hours, eking out meagre salaries that help feed hundreds of thousands of poor rural families.
Among the big Western firms with clothing produced in Cambodia are Marks and Spencer Group Plc , Tesco Plc , Next Plc and Inditex , the world’s biggest clothing retailer and owner of Zara.
Swedish fashion brand H&M said it was consulting state agencies, workers and independent factory inspectors to find out what happened at Hung Wah this week.
“Worker´s health and safety in our supplier factories is of high priority to H&M. Accordingly, we have immediately started investigations as soon as we received information,” the company said in an e-mail to Reuters.