Hundreds of workers collapse at Cambodian H&M clothing factory

Nearly 300 Cambodian workers passed out in clothing factories last week in the latest of a spate of mass fainting attributed to poor working conditions, prompting an investigation by the clothing chain H&M.

In two separate incidents this week, staff collapsed while making knitwear at the factory near Phnom Penh, which supplies clothes for the Swedish fashion giant. Over two days, 284 workers fainted at M&V International Manufacturing in Kompong Chhnang province.

Eighty-six workers reportedly fell ill on Tuesday, followed by another 198 on Thursday. More than 100 people were hospitalised.

Union representatives blamed conditions inside the factory; Nuon Senghour said workers had complained of headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath and the factory had been "very hot inside, with a bad smell from the canal and smoke coming from the factory".

Ly Virak, the police chief, denied this, saying that the incident had arisen from mass hysteria. He told Reuters: "When one worker collapsed, others also fell sick."

The faintings are the most recent incidents that have provoked international alarm over factory conditions. The International Labour Organisation blamed the sickness on inadequate nutrition. It told the Phnom Penh Post that the nutrition of workers was a "preoccupying situation that goes beyond the immediate mass-fainting incidents".

H&M said that it had launched an investigation: "We are aware of the faintings and are looking into investigating." The company said the government, local authorities and the UN's International Labour Organisation had "not found any plausible causes so far".

Other major firms with goods produced in Cambodia include Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Next and Inditex, the owner of Zara. Marks and Spencer said it was aware of the situation.

Cambodia's garment sector has been engaged in persistent disputes about working conditions and pay. Strikes last year spiralled into clashes between employees and armed riot police.