Workers in Cambodia’s garment industry are seriously malnourished, according to a new report released last week that estimates the sector’s hundreds of thousands of workers consume just half of the recommended daily calorie intake for adults engaged in moderate manual labor.
The 16-page report, published by the Cambodia Legal Education Center (CLEC) in conjunction with U.K.-based labor advocacy group Labor Behind the Label (LBL), also said the mass fainting phenomenon in the country’s garment factories was a direct result of malnourishment, coupled with other endemic factors such as long work hours, heat, lack of water, chemical fumes and mass hysteria.
Entitled “Shop [un]til They Drop. Fainting and Malnutrition in Garment Workers in Cambodia,” the report found that garment factory workers spend an average of just $1.53 per day on food, while it costs about $2.50 to purchase 3,000 calories of food containing sufficient nutrients and protein.
“Workers were found to intake an average 1,598 calories per day, which is around half the recommended amount for a woman working in an industrial context. BMI [body mass index] figures taken from 95 workers also backed this up, showing that 33 percent of workers were medically malnourished, and 25 percent seriously so,” the report states.
A recommended 3,000-calorie diet costs $75.03 each month, while the monthly minimum wage for garment workers is currently $80, which includes a health bonus, according to the report.
“The report clearly demonstrates that a single garment worker’s basic needs are at least $150.06 per month,” the authors said in a statement accompanying the report.
“The research shows that the government and international brands have failed in their responsibility to ensure basic needs and human dignity for the workers of the country’s key sector. Despite continued promises and minimal wage increases, garment workers are as poor now as they were in the early 2000s.”
“The premise of this report is that malnutrition, due to low wages and time poverty, is endemic in Cambodia’s garment workers. This has led to a situation where workers producing high street fashion for western markets are constantly weak and prone to collapse…,” the statement says.
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, agreed with the report’s premise that low pay had resulted in poor health and mass fainting.
While the price of food has skyrocketed, garment workers’ wages are still very “light,” Mr. Mony said.
“It would be acceptable to get a $10 basic wage if the price of food is just one cent,” said Mr. Mony. “But prices of food in markets, utility costs and even petrol has dramatically increased while the basic wage is very low, which is why garments workers don’t eat enough food.”
While free lunches for garment workers would go some way toward ensuring interim health issues are fixed, a living wage is the only lasting solution, the report states.