Report Highlights Lack of Safety Standards in Garment Industry

A new report on the risk of accidents in garment factories highlights the inadequacy of regulations intended to prevent fires, along with a complete lack of building standards and a failure by authorities to conduct thorough inspections.

The International Labor Organization-commissioned “Fire and Life Safety Risk Profile,” a summary of which was released Tuesday, comes in the wake of a number of accidents at factories in Cambodia, including a fire at Phnom Penh’s Chang Sheng Garment factory in July that killed a Chinese supervisor and injured three others.

In October, at least eight people were injured when the floor of the Nishiku Enterprise factory in Takeo province caved in, and in May last year, a section of the Wing Star Shoes factory in Kompong Speu province collapsed, killing two workers.

As well as noting a lack of legislation to ensure that factories adhere to fire safety and building standards, the report says there are no clear mechanisms in place that allow factories to report fires or structural failures, while labor inspections are “conducted irregularly due to a lack of budget and personnel.”

The report also sets out a list of recommendations for key industry players, urging the government to properly implement fire and building safety standards, and calling on brands, factories, unions and factory owners to also take responsibility for safety in factories.

Land Management Ministry spokesman Meng Bunarith said Tuesday his ministry was taking action to tackle the problems raised in the report.

“We have seen that there are many incidents happening as a result of fires or no building safety. So now we are working to create legislation to prevent them,” Mr. Bunarith said.

“We will go to check on incidents after they happen to see what the cause of them is,” he said.

However, Kong Athit, vice president of the country’s largest independent trade union, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said government officials should be inspecting factories in advance of any problems occurring.

“The Ministry of Land Management should spend some of their budget to work on this, because worker safety is important, and not let something like Wing Star happen [again],” he said.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which represents the country’s 500 export factories, said that until the government clearly sets out factories’ obligations under the law, his members had little to guide them.

“The main problem that many of our members state is that the regulations are unclear,” Mr. Loo said.

“If the regulations are unclear, are the factories supposed to do guesswork? I think the so-called recommendations would make more sense if the regulations were clear.”

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