17th May 2013
The Cambodia Daily reports that labour rights activists and a government official have accused the International Labour Organisation’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) programme of culpability in the collapse.
Penh Pal isn’t sure if this was because the BFC inspectors were all standing at the time on the mezzanine section above the factory floor when it collapsed under their weight?
The labour programme head of the Community Legal Education Centre, Moeun Tola, blamed the BFC for ineffectiveness by failing to disclose the names of factories that have flouted the nation’s laws on health and safety in factories. The director of the Ministry of Labour’s occupational safety and health department echoed these sentiments.
However Jill Tucker, technical advisor for the BFC countered that the factory in question was not part of the monitoring programme as it had only recently started to cover shoe factories. So far, it has only managed to bring nine of the 45 footwear factories currently exporting from Cambodia on board.
David Welsh, country director of The Solidarity Centre, also noted that if the BFC was too aggressive in it approach, many factories would simply opt out of the programme, which is voluntary.
This is not the first time of late that the BFC has been attacked. A report released in the middle of February, “Monitoring in the Dark,” by researchers from Stanford Law School, accused the BFC of failing to improve the lives of Cambodian garment workers. In fact, it claims, wages and basic job security have actually declined over the past decade during the time the BFC has been in operation.
Multinational clothing retailers have been considering Cambodia as one of several countries that could be alternatives to Bangladesh for manufacturing after the disaster three weeks ago at the Rana Plaza factory complex there that killed at least 1,127 people but yesterday’s accident at the factory in Tream Tbal, about an hour’s drive southwest of Phnom Penh, is a reminder that workplace accidents and shoddy construction are not confined to Bangladesh.
Dangerous building practices appear to behind this accident as well, rather than the more usual problems of industrial fumes or inadequate sustenance – something that is not part of BFC’s remit.
A report just last month by BFC highlighted concerns about workplace safety, including “a worrying increase in fire safety violations.”
While the cause of the ceiling collapse was not immediately known, the secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), Ken Loo said that steel beams holding up a concrete-floored storage area at mezzanine height between two buildings had given way. One of the workers injured in the collapse said the mezzanine was “overloaded” with materials.
The factory, Wing Star Shoes, which opened about 18 months ago, employs about 8,000 people, was making shoes for Asics, an athletic shoe company based in Kobe, Japan, which are popular with runners, particularly in the United States.