Factories Asked to Voluntarily Assess Safety

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia on Monday asked factory owners to voluntarily conduct structural audits on their build­ings in light of building collapses at two garment factories that killed two people and injured 23.

On May 16, a ceiling at Taiwan­ese-owned Wing Star Shoes Co. Ltd. in Kompong Speu collapsed, killing two workers. Four days later, a dining hall that was part of Hong Kong-owned Top World Garment (Cambodia) Ltd. in Phnom Penh collapsed into a pond, injuring 23 workers.

“In the aftermath of these partial collapses on factory premises, we are strongly advising a structural review of all buildings in all garment and footwear factories in Cambodia,” the letter says.

“[W]e believe that it is necessary to take actions to guarantee a safe environment for workers and to protect the industry’s integrity.”

GMAC and the ILO said they could provide a list of construction and engineering firms to factories planning to undertake the voluntary structural reviews, but had not approved any of the firms.

The ILO did not respond to requests for comment. Contacted by telephone Monday, GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo defended the lack of enforcement and oversight of the structural reviews recommended by GMAC and the ILO.

“We can advise but we have no authority to enforce,” Mr. Loo said. “We just recommend some [construction] companies that have good reputations but we are not the experts. We are not structural ex­perts, we are not architectural ex­perts, we are not the authorities that should be certifying these companies.”

Authorities blamed the Wing Star ceiling collapse on shoddy construction work that was illegally contracted by the factory.

Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng promised on the day of the collapse that a nationwide review of factories would be conducted, and that legal action would be taken.

So far, no one has been held responsible for the ceiling collapse and Wing Star has declined to name the company responsible for the construction.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, praised the ILO and GMAC letter, and appealed to Buddhist angels, known as Devada, for help in ensuring that such an incident will not happen again. “We wish for this never to happen again. Please, Devada, help,” he said.

Mr. Mean also said that the inspection and structural safety of factories in Cambodia “is not the responsibility of my ministry.”

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