Mass Fainting in H&M Garment Factory, No Problems Found

An H&M garment factory that has consistently received top marks from the U.N. was the site of a mass fainting on Wednesday in Phnom Penh, though no problems with the factory were found during an ensuing inspection.

The 73 workers who fainted at the Berry Apparel (Cambodia) factory at about 8:30 a.m. were found to have low blood sugar, said Sao Sarith, deputy chief of Choam Chao commune in Pur Senchey district.

“It made them weak,” Mr. Sarith said. “When they saw others fall down, they fell down too.”

A labor union representative, however, attributed the faintings to a lack of sleep and food.

“One worker got dizzy and was sent to hospital,” said Chhun Sokhy, the factory’s representative to the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia. “When others saw this happening, they felt scared and started to continually faint, one by one.”

The stricken workers were sent to nearby clinics for treatment, and 64 of them, all women, were still receiving treatment as of 4 p.m., Ms. Sokhy said.

Cambodia has more than 700,000 garment workers. Mass faintings are unusually common in Cambodia, and are variously attributed to a lack of nutrition, anemia, shock, spirits, or other causes.

The Berry factory has about 2,750 workers and supplies international brands, including H&M. Better Factories Cambodia, a factory monitoring body set up by the U.N. and World Bank, assessed the factory in February last year and found no problems.

Labor Ministry officials and local authorities who inspected the building on Wednesday also found no problems, according to Mr. Sarith and Ms. Sokhy.

H&M, a billion-dollar Swedish-based global chain with 4,500 stores, confirmed the faintings on Wednesday in a statement, adding its local team was monitoring the case and investigating to identify the cause.

“We take this very seriously,” the company said. “The health and safety of those who work at our suppliers’ factories is of course a priority to us.”

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Byrne)

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