Fearing Ghosts, 200 Workers Drop ‘One by One’

More than 200 workers at a shoe factory in Kompong Speu province fainted over the past two days due to what the provincial labor department called a fear of “ghost spirits,” though they were also found to have low blood sugar.

Pen Sary, 25, came to work at the Wing Star shoe factory in Kong Pisei district on Wednesday morning looking ill, said Cheuk Borin of the provincial labor department. She had long been sick with stomach problems and flu, but had not gone to the hospital.

Once in the factory, she suddenly began to yell, drawing a crowd, then began to shake and fell to the floor unconscious.

“Many workers came to look at her as she shouted. One by one, they started falling down,” Mr. Borin said. “They have fainted because they were scared of ghostly spirits.”

On Wednesday, 139 passed out; 73 others fainted on Thursday.

Sent for a medical checkup, Ms. Sary was found to have low blood sugar, Mr. Borin said, while most of the others were also diagnosed with stomach problems and hypoglycemia.

Mr. Borin said that the factory had closed both days after the mass swooning. Wing Star could not be reached.

Hundreds of mass faintings have been reported in the country’s garment factories in recent years, but the causes remain elusive, with factory owners quick to blame “ghosts” and labor advocates and others searching for medical and environmental factors.

Workers frequently work in hot and stifling factories, and are often chronically malnourished and suffer from anemia. Some experts believe these poor conditions combine with the onset of a condition known as mass psychogenic illness, or mass hysteria.

“It’s hard to generalize,” said Esther Germans, program director of Better Factories Cambodia, when asked about the possible cause of the faintings. “It seems a number were indeed tired or weren’t eating enough. And they believed there was some bad spirit.”

Chea Sokleom, a doctor at a clinic in Baset district, said he had treated 114 workers.

“They fainted because they were scared of ghosts, and because their health was weak from battling long illnesses,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Aisha Down)

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