15-year-old killed in Cambodia factory collapse


15-year old garment Sim Srey Touch was crushed under tons of metal and concrete before she could escape.

She is one of the three garment workers killed in the Wing Star Shoes’ factory collapse, which occurred early on Thursday morning in the Kampong Speu province, a few miles from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Less a month after the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, where 1127 garment workers lost their lives, this latest tragedy reveals the many contradictions of the global garment industry, where workers pay the ultimate price for cheap consumer items.

It particularly reveals the total disregard for safety and labour standards at Asian factories that produce clothes and shoes for Western consumers.

Sim only started working at Wing Star two weeks ago. Her mother, Noun Nget, told reporters that she had lied about her age to get the job.

“My daughter used a fake document that said she was 22 or 23 to get work,” she said.

“She began working there on 2 May and did not yet get a salary. I do not want compensation from the factory – I want to see my daughter survive,” she said.

According to the Phnom Penh Post, Sim’s three sisters also work at Wing Star. One of them, Yim Pay said she watched police carry out her sister’s body after the collapse.

“I was working in another building and heard a thunderous sound and ran to see what was happening,” she said.

The manager of the factory, Chea Sothavirith, did not comment about the girl’s age or about compensation for the families of the victims.

However, the governor of Kampong Speu province promised the families of the dead workers will be compensated with 5,000 US dollars each.


Worked to death

Reuters reports that Wing Star Shoes Co Ltd is a Taiwanese company employing about 7,000 people in the factory complex that opened about a year ago.

The collapse occurred in a part of the complex used as a storage warehouse and apparently in the work area there were only about 100 people.

Work conditions and salaries have also been an issue at Wing Star. One of the workers rescued, Ngeth Phat, said there had already been two strikes in the last year over low wages, about 80 US dollars a month.

Like other South-East Asian countries, garment manufacturing is the leading industry in Cambodia (80 per cent of the export, says the IMF) and employs about 500,000 people in more than 500 garment and shoe factories.

According to the Associated Press news agency, the country shipped more than four billion US dollars worth of products to the United States and Europe in 2012.

Chea Muny, the factory’s trade union representative, said that Wing Star produces sneakers for Asics, the Japanese sportswear label, destined for the United States and European markets.

Indeed, Asics footwear emerged from the damaged warehouse, while bulldozers were clearing away the rubble.

An Asics spokesperson later confirmed that the factory was amongst their suppliers.

Asics’s sales amounted to 247,792 million Yen (2,428 million US dollars) in 2012; estimates suggest that the figure for 2013 will be higher.

In April, the ILO issued a report about safety in the Cambodian garment and footwear industry in which the UN agency found a worrying increase in safety violations and working conditions, which sometimes lead to fatalities.

“Our report findings demonstrate that improvements are not being made in many key areas of working conditions and this is likely to be in large part due to the rapid growth of the industry.

“However, growth should not result in an increase in non-compliance among factories in an area as intrinsic to worker safety as having clear access pathways,” said Jill Tucker, chief technical advisor of ILO-Better Factories Cambodia.