‘Shop til you drop’ is the mantra that defines one aspect of cultural identity in the West. The flip side of that coin is called ‘work til you drop’, but it is invisible to retail extremists in cities like New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles – but it’s very real for sweatshop factory floor workers in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The brands you love – Gap, Target, H&M, Adidas, Puma et all, and all made on the cheap by American and European corporations employing quasi-slave labour earning the princely sum of around $3.50 per day. Thanks to the west’s international WTO trade mafia and commodity casino markets, a worker will spend approximately $1.50 to $2 of that money per day on subsistence food. What’s left over at the end of the month could not buy a one designer T-Shirt (but maybe enough to feed a retail fashion super model for a week). It’s a pretty bad deal all around for the people in this region. And they say colonialism is dead?
Cambodian ‘Canaries in the Coal Mine‘
Mass faintings are up again this year, as Cambodian workers try to endure 100F temperatures inside. Garment retail’s frontline workers are today’s equivalent of ‘canaries in the coal mine’.
Factory owners and their fat retail clients starting to realise the inevitable backlash that comes with neoslavery in the 21st century. At the start of this year in January, street violence rocked multiple industrial areas in Phnom Penh, as hundreds of thousands indentured garment workers protested against their appalling working conditions and the profiteering of neocolonial corporation who’ve managed to pump up their share prices on the backs of struggling Cambodians. Predictably, police and military forces opened fire, killing four people and injuring dozens more. In response, the Cambodian government slapped a ban on public gatherings. By definition, this is full-blown naked fascism – and it’s fully endorsed by US and European retail giants. The US or EU governments might claim its an outrage and that Cambodia “must take steps towards reform”, but more often than not, political water carriers will just sit on their hands for fear of upsetting one corporate lobby or another.
It’s not just in factories though – it’s happening at universities, pagodas and out on the street. Skeptics claim that the recent spat of fainting is simply ‘hysteria’, and they’re half right. For slave workers whose employers won’t address their grievances, and whose government will not allow free speech or assembly, there are no viable options left. Better fainting than suicide bombs.
In the battle for bigger profit margins, US and Europe brands have been happy to outsource their production to some of the most depressed economic regions in the world. Putting the Phnom Penh situation in perspective, it wasn’t that long ago that America saw identical scenes as these, like the Homestead Steel Strike and the Battle of Blair Mountain, where US workers paid the ultimate price in the battle for a fairer wage and more tolerable working conditions.
As spring sales are in full swing, workers in Phnom Penh are dropping like flies, not only in the factory – but outside as well…
Mass faintings in Cambodia: What’s the reason?
Along traffic-choked roads winding into Phnom Penh, Cambodia, sit dozens of factories baking in the sun. Every morning at dawn, thousands of workers wrap their heads in checkered scarves called kromahs, climb aboard rickety trucks and report to work to assemble clothing that will eventually arrive thousands of miles away at Gaps, Targets and H&Ms.
Inside these darkened factories, temperatures soar above 100 degrees. Cambodians work for $100 per month.
And people faint.
A mass fainting, as it’s called, almost always begins with one worker. But fainting can spread like a contagion across a factory, infecting dozens, sometimes hundreds of workers.
Last week, nearly 120 workers spontaneously fainted at two textile factories that produce sportswear for Puma and Adidas. The fainting is the latest controversy to rock an industry vital to the Cambodian economy that generates more than $5 billion per year.
This factory fainting was like scores of others. More than 1,000 factory faintings were reported in 2011. In 2012, that number surged to almost 2,000 — including 30 workers who fainted while manufacturing clothing for Puma, according to a Cambodian study called “Shop ’til they drop.” In 2013, the same thing happened to 180 workers manufacturing clothing for Adidas and Polo Ralph Lauren.
Cambodia is not the only country to pay a high cost for making cheap clothing. In April 2013, a Bangladeshi factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people. And China has repeatedly faced criticism for the conditions its factory workers face.
But mass faintings do seem to afflict Cambodia more than other countries. Though they baffle outside observers, faintings happen all over the country — in and out of factories.
High school students faint in the middle of class, and classmates whip out bottles of Tiger Balm, a heat rub, to rouse them. Others faint on buses, and their family members crowd around, pinching their skin. Cambodians faint at the market and Cambodians faint at the pagoda…
Continue this story at Washington Post
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