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Social Issues
Ceiling Collapses At Shoe Factory In Cambodia
May 16, 2013
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Three weeks after the disaster in Bangladesh, a concrete ceiling at a shoe factory in Cambodia collapsed today - killing at least three workers.

The factory, called Wing Star Shoes, had been making shoes for Asics - a big athletic shoe company based in Kobe, Japan and popular in America with runners.

A spokesperson said he couldn't say at this point where the shoes were shipped to, or whether the factory made shoes for other brands.

He said Asics "offered its deepest sympathies" to the victims and their families, and that the company would look at ways to improve safety at its overseas suppliers.

According to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMA), the ceiling was being held up by steel beams that gave way. It's believed that heavy equipment stored above might have caused the collapse.

In addition to the dead, as many as nine workers were injured - three of them severely - by falling concrete, said Ken Loo, the secretary general of the GMA.

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Wing Star Shoes, a Taiwan company, employs about 7,000 people but only about 100
worked in this factory.

"We were working normally and suddenly several pieces of brick and iron started falling on us," said Kong Thary, who was injured.

Another worker Ngeth Phat told Reuters "After I got into work, bits of brick dropped on me, and about 10 minutes later the whole ceiling collapsed. It was completely dark and I was under other people."

While this tragedy is nowhere near the scale of the one in Bangladesh, it again highlights the concerns about dangerous working conditions and poor safety standards in developing countries.

"The shoe and garment industry is built upon huge profits and little concern for the well-being of their workers," Tessel Pauli, a spokesperson for the Clean Clothes Campaign told The New York Times.

"It is inherently unsafe and dangerous to work in. As long as workers are marginalized and deprived of their basic rights, the situation will not improve."

As The Guardian points out, the garment industry is a key part of Cambodia's economy.

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About 500,000 people work in more than 500 clothing and shoe factories across the country. Last year, Cambodia shipped more than $4 billion worth of products to the United States and Europe. And as the Toronto Star reports, The International Monetary Fund says garments account for about 80 per cent of its exports.

In fact, as the Times reports, "multinational clothing retailers have been considering Cambodia as one of several countries that could be alternatives to Bangladesh for manufacturing. Cambodia has some of the lowest labor costs in Asia, with workers earning $120 a month in salary and benefits before overtime, but that compares with just $37 in Bangladesh."

Many of Cambodia's factories have been built over the past ten years, so this type of accident is relatively rare. As well, Cambodia has fairly strong health and safety laws. But Bradley Gordon, an American lawyer based in Phnom Penh, told the Times they're not enforced enough.

However, Gordon said he believes Cambodia's government would take action to improve safety because the industry is so valuable for the country.

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