PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The ceiling of a Cambodian factory that makes Asics sneakers collapsed on workers early Thursday, killing two people and injuring seven, in the latest accident to spotlight lax safety conditions in the global garment industry.
About 50 workers were inside the factory, south of the capital Phnom Penh, when the ceiling caved in, said police officer Khem Pannara. He said heavy iron equipment stored on the floor above appeared to have caused the collapse.
Two bodies were pulled from the wreckage and seven people were injured, he said. Rescuers combed through rubble for several hours and after clearing the site said that nobody else was trapped inside.
"We were working normally and suddenly several pieces of brick and iron started falling on us," said an injured 25-year-old Kong Thary, crying on the telephone as she recounted the scene from a nearby clinic.
Chea Muny, chief of a trade union for factory workers, identified the factory as a Taiwanese-owned operation called Wing Star that produces Asics sneakers for the Japanese sportswear label. He said shoes made at the factory were imported to the United States and Europe.
The factory complex, which opened about a year ago, consists of several buildings. The structure where the collapse occurred was mainly used as a storage warehouse for shoe-production equipment but had a small work area where people were gathered when the collapse occurred, Chea Muny said.
The garment industry is Cambodia's biggest export earner. In 2012, more than $4 billion worth of products were shipped to the United States and Europe.
About 500,000 people work in more than 500 garment and shoe factories throughout the country.
The accident comes about three weeks after a building collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,127 people in the global garment industry's deadliest disaster. Bangladesh is the third-biggest exporter of clothes in the world, after China and Italy.
"This shows that the problem is not only isolated to Bangladesh, and that companies (elsewhere) are trying to drive prices down by taking shortcuts on workers' safety," said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.