Cambodian Workers Faint in Factories

By: Jessica Ties
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodian factory workers have been forced to work overtime beyond the limits allowed by law in poorly ventilated buildings contributing to recent incidents of mass fainting.

Cambodian factory workers have been fainting due to poor working conditions and long hours (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Asia).

The recent faintings have occurred in the country’s textile industry where a union activist claims harmful chemicals are present and at least partially at fault for the fainting of workers.

Approximately 200 factory workers at the Nanguo Garment Co. Ltd. in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh fainted on Monday while working.

Although the Ministry of Labor medical department director has reported that tests reported no signs of toxic chemicals, workers who were taken to the hospital after fainting reported to Free Trade Union of the Kingdom of Cambodia president Chea Mony that the factory had recently sprayed pesticide around the premises.

A female worker explained her experience by stating that “…I saw a few workers faint, and then others. We were shocked, and we all began to cry.” She then added that had felt exhausted and could not move before fainting.

The International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Program has reported that within a six month time span in 2011 at least 1,500 workers from eleven different factories have reported fainting.

In addition, in August almost 300 people fainted in one week while working in a  factory supplying popular clothing store H&M. In addition, another 100 people were reportedly taken to the hospital after fainting at M&V International Manufacturing factory.

Last April, approximately 100 workers fainted at a factory supplying Puma and another forty-nine fainted at the same factory two months later.

Just one week before the mass faintings, workers in Cambodia held a people’s tribunal to investigate the pay and conditions of factories for brands such as H&M and Gap.

Given the history of faintings at a factory supplying H&M products, many were unhappy at the company’s decision not to attend the people’s tribunal.

The minimum wage in Cambodia is $66 per month which is half of what is required to meet the basic needs. As a result, workers are often forced to work ten to thirteen hours a day to get the money that they need to support their families.

 

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Asia – Faintings Blamed on Overwork, Ventilation – 14 February 2012

The Guardian – Cambodian Workers Hold ‘People’s Tribunal’ to Look at Factory Conditions – 2 February 2012

Slave-Like Conditions Found on Fishing Boats Supplying Europe

By Christina Berger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

LONDON, England – Workers are suffering slave-like conditions on illegal fishing boats supplying fish and seafood to the European market, according to a report published Thursday by the London-based group Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).  The report “All at Sea – The Abuse of Human Rights Aboard Illegal Fishing Vessels” follows an investigation by EJF spanning four years.

Living quarters on illegal fishing vessel often about a meter high (Photo Courtesy of EJF)
Living quarters on illegal fishing vessels are often about a meter high. (Photo Courtesy of Environmental Justice Foundation)

EJF investigated fishing trawlers operating off the coast of Sierra Leone and Guinea.  The boats have official European Union numbers, which means they are licensed to sell to the European market.  The biggest landing point for fish from west African waters is Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, which senior EU officials have criticized for its slack inspection procedure.

The official European Union numbers carried by the boats also mean that those vessels should have passed strict hygiene standards.  However, the EJF report alleges that extremely unhealthy and hazardous conditions exist on board many of the vessels they investigated.

The report claims that the “worst cases meet the International Labour Organization definition of forced labor, including physical confinement, compulsion, retention of identity documents, and non-payment of wages.”  The report goes on to detail conditions where crew members have been “punched, beaten with metal rods, deprived of sleep, imprisoned without food or water, and forced to continue working after injury; the worst cases of violence include murder.”

Some workers are forced to work in areas sorting fish with no ventilation and temperatures well over 100 ˚F.  Photographs and video show living quarters where the ceiling is less than a meter high, or where wooden structures are perched precariously on deck in danger of “being washed over the side.”

EJF alleges that workers are drawn from rural areas of countries like Vietnam or the Philippines, as well as locals, with the promise of higher wages than they could earn at home.  It’s only when they get to the boat that they find those promises never materialize – usually after their passports have been taken away.

The report details one case of a vessel fishing illegally in Sierra Leonean waters,  where “[local] crew members had been picked up in Freetown and taken on without contracts and were not given cash payment.  Instead they were paid in boxes of frozen ‘trash’ fish, which is the bycatch rejected by the European market.

EJF did not originally intend to investigate human rights abuses, but rather focus on illegal fishing practices.

Duncan Copeland,  an EJF investigator, said, “We didn’t set out to look at human rights but rather to tackle the illegal fishing that’s decimating fish stocks, but having been on board we have seen conditions that unquestionably meet the UN official definition of forced labour or modern-day slavery.”

For more information, please see:

MSNBC – Report finds slave-like conditions on fishing vessels – 30 September 2010

GUARDIAN UK – Modern-day slavery: horrific conditions on board ships catching fish for Europe – 30 September 2010

AOL NEWS – Slavery Found on Fishing Boats Supplying Europe – 30 September 2010

EJF – EJF Releases New Report – 30 September 2010

Child Labor in Pakistan

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – With the coming of Eid al-Fitr, there is a boost in the glass bangles industry, and an increase in the child labor it takes to meet the high demand.  One child worker states, “Usually we work eight or nine hours a day. At busy times like this we work for up to 16.”  He earns approximately $13 per month.  Another child said, “Our parents are very poor. We have to work, though I would like to go to school.  If the workshop owner is happy with our work he may give us some extra money and then our parents will be happy.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) conducted a study of the glass bangles industry and found that, on average, children worked nearly 12 hours per day.  Children sit hunched over hot furnaces and are subject to toxic chemicals, putting their health at risk.

Non-governmental organizations such as the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC), based in Islamabad, estimate approximately 8 to 10 million children are exploited for work.  According to the Federal Bureau of Statistics, 3.3 million are engaged in the glass bangle industry.

SPARC’s national manager for promotions stated that it is not poverty that leads to exploitation, “The notion that poverty is a cause is inaccurate. In fact child labor itself leads to poverty and creates a vicious circle… The high drop-out rate from schools, with 50 percent leaving education within the first five years of primary education, also contributes to child labor.”  Moreover, the lack of awareness attributes to Pakistani child labor since consumers do not know how the bangles are made.

A study conducted by Save the Children said that, “eradication of this labour is not a viable option unless new avenues and opportunities are created.”  They also point out that one impediment is that there are few work alternatives and few pay as much.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Pakistan Labour Effort Praised – 4 May 2006

Irin – Pakistan:  The Darker Side of Glittering Bangles – 3 October 2008

IPS – Rights-Pakistan:  Glass Bangle Industry Rides on Child Labour – 20 June 2003