Around 200 workers at Universal Apparel Cambodia fainted in April 2011

Around 200 workers at Universal Apparel Cambodia fainted in April 2011

Researchers have found baseline malnutrition in Cambodian garment workers, which could explain the spate of factory faintings that have plagued the sector in recent years.

According to research released by labour rights campaign group Labour Behind the Label, factory workers in Cambodia consume just 1,598 calories a day on average, around half the recommended amount.

BMI figures indicate that 33% of Cambodian garment workers are medically underweight and at risk, and 25% seriously so, displaying figures that would be used to diagnose anorexia in developed countries.

The study found that workers earn GBP51 (US$81) a month at minimum wage. The recommended 3,000 calorie diet suitable for a woman doing a 10-hour day of industrial work would cost GBP48 a month, leaving GBP3 for all other costs. A monthly living wage, which could support a family, is closer to GBP287 a month.

In the factory faintings that are widepread in the Cambodian garment industry, up to 300 workers have been seen to collapse at a time. Researchers suggest the findings of the study underline baseline malnutrition across the board, which makes workers weak and prone to collapse.

"The downward spiral of cheap clothing has led to a situation where the people who make our clothes are paid starvation wages and can't afford to eat or to feed their children. This has to end," said Anna McMullen, the report's author.

"The solution is for a living wage to be paid, but in the meantime, brands and factory owners must look to provide other benefits such as free lunches."