ILO Says Factory Conditions Improving

The International Labor Organization (ILO) said conditions in Cambodia’s garment factories have improved since it resumed identifying labor infractions at specific factories two years ago but noted significant ongoing problems in a report released on Friday.

The latest Synthesis Report, produced by the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program, assessed 381 of the 580 factories in the program on a wide range of criteria, from child labor to health conditions to trade union freedoms. It says the share of assessed factories complying with all 21 of the most critical issues, including forced labor and emergency exits, has risen from 28 percent since before public reporting to 47 percent.

“Although there are some individual critical issues that have not improved, overall it can be concluded that the public reporting initiative is driving change at the factory level,” it says.

The same results also show that more than half the assessed factories failed to comply with at least one of the most critical issues.

Health and safety standards were among the most abused. Of the eight criteria in the category, more than half the factories were out of compliance with seven. According to the report, 87 percent of factories lacked adequate lighting, 69 percent were too hot—a common cause for the mass faintings at factories—and 59 percent lacked sanitary drinking water.

Two-thirds of the factories were also found abusing the two-hour limit on daily overtime.

On the plus side, BFC found a marked drop in child labor—those working at the age of 15 or under—from 65 confirmed cases in 2013 to 16 last year. That number is likely to downplay the prevalence of the problem, though, as BFC investigates only a sample of workers at the factories it monitors.

BFC started naming and shaming factories again in early 2014, after a nearly decadelong hiatus and following criticism from researchers at Stanford University that a lack of transparency was allowing working conditions in Cambodia to fall behind those in competing countries.

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