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Nearly 300 workers fell ill last week at a factory in Cambodia that produces garments for the Swedish company H&M, police said. 284 workers collapsed last Tuesday and Thursday of last week – with some reporting a pungent smell just prior to fainting.
“Workers smelled something bad coming from the shirts,” said 26-year-old Norn Leakhena, who works at the factory. The mass fainting is being blamed on the “weak” health of the workers and the factory has suspended operations temporarily to give the employees, some 4,000 workers, time to rest.
“When one worker collapsed, others also fell sick,” said deputy provincial police chief Ly Virak. He said that 86 people collapsed on Tuesday, followed by another 198 on Thursday.
H&M says they are investigating the incidents and said that the local government, along with the U.N.’s International Labour Organization, had not found “any plausible causes” for the faintings so far. “The root cause…is difficult to establish,” Hcan Andersson, a spokesman for H&M, said.
This is not the first instance of workers at an H&M factory falling ill en masse. In July, H&M said it was consulting with independent factory inspectors, workers, and state agencies to figure out what happened at a different factory after 300 workers fell sick there.
Non-governmental organizations speculate that the cause of mass fainting in factories is workers laboring for long hours on meager salaries – in other words, the employees are overworked and exhausted. Exposure to chemicals, along with poor ventilation, is also a potential reason for the collapse of the workers.