Odor Causes Nearly 200 Garment Workers to Faint at 2 Factories

More than 190 workers at two separate garment factories fainted at work on Friday and Saturday, both times after complaining of foul odors, union leaders and workers said.

At the Chinese-owned Sixplus Industry factory in Kandal province’s Mok Kampoul district, which makes sportswear for retail giant Adidas, about 160 female workers passed out on Saturday morning, according to Moeun Chanthy, chief of the factory’s sewing section.

“The unpleasant smell is hard to describe—it smells like a gas, it has a bad smell like a poisonous chemical…but we do not yet know where that smell came from,” Ms. Chanthy said.

Some of the workers who fainted also experienced vomiting and dizziness, and most of them were sent to the Prek Anhchanh commune health center for treatment, according to Son Sophal, a doctor there. Three women with particularly bad symptoms were sent on to Calmette Hospital.

“They looked serious—they were unconscious, their jaws could not move, and they had cold legs and arms,” Dr. Sophal said.

Kong Phanith, chief of administration for the factory, confirmed the incident had occurred but said that only about 130 workers had fainted. He said factory management was working to pinpoint the source of the odor workers had smelled, but insisted that it was not emanating from within the factory.

“The smell came from outside,” he said. “We do not know where it came from, but near the factory there are banana and mango fields.”

On Friday and Saturday, a total of 33 workers also fainted at the Pak Shun factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district after being exposed to a foul odor.

Chea Mony, the president of the Free Trade Union, which represents workers at the factory, attributed the fainting to blocked drainage pipes.

“The factory has pipes, and when the rain comes the pipes are blocked, resulting in a bad smell from the pipes mixing with the smell of clothes,” he said.

Prin Savy, a worker at Pak Shun who inspects the quality of finished pieces of embroidery, said she fainted on both Friday and Saturday due to the smell.

“A strong sour smell came from the garbage inside the factory, and I also smelled the dye of the embroidery cloths,” she said.

Factory faintings have plagued Cambodia’s garment sector for years, but have fallen from a high of 1,973 in 2011 to 823 workers last year. Experts have said these incidents are largely due to mass psychogenic illness—which is sometimes triggered by bad smells—but can be exacerbated by poor living and working conditions.

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