Cambodian Garment Workers Faint En Masse Due to Paint Fumes, Food Poisoning

This week, almost 300 workers in the Cambodian garment industry fainted en masse at three separate factories, which produce clothes for brands like Adidas and Puma. Cambodia's Ministry of Labor has confirmed the faintings, according to WWD, though they supplied lower numbers.

In the Shen Zhou and Daqian Textile factories, about 260 workers fainted after eating the same bad lunch. The two factories use the same food supplier, and workers who ate the day's chicken rice began exhibiting signs of food poisoning immediately. The next morning, many fainted again, as they were all "psychologically affected," according to the spokesman for the Ministry of Labor.

At New Wide, the third factory, chemicals were the culprit. The factory was undergoing a new paint job, and workers were exposed to the fumes, causing about 100 of them to faint.

The idea of mass faintings might sound a bit sci-fi, but unfortunately, these are far from isolated incidents. WWD reports that 823 workers fainted in 2013, and 1,600 fainted in 2012. Labor rights activists believe that these continual faintings result from a deeper problem than the occasional bad lunch: an extreme sensitivity to environment caused by unfairly low wages. When workers don't make enough money to live at a level of basic health, they're more susceptible to stress, fumes, heat, bad ventilation, and so on.

Unfortunately, the Cambodian government just doesn't see it that way. At the beginning of March, the National Social Security Fund director placed the blame on the workers, saying that it's not the long hours or bad working conditions that causes these mass faintings, but the workers' failure to take proper care of their health. "For example," said the director, "when they get a headache or are slightly ill, they don’t see a doctor, because they think healthcare is too expensive."

And that's called irony.