Updated: 05/16/2013 15:01 | By Agence France-Presse

Cambodia shoe factory collapse kills two

A ceiling collapse at a shoe factory in Cambodia Thursday killed two workers, police said, fuelling concern about workplace safety after last month's industrial disaster in Bangladesh.

Local rescue teams, helped by soldiers, scrambled early Thursday to search through the rubble of the fallen structure, which appeared to have been on a mezzanine level laden with crates of trainers and canvas shoes.

Khem Pannara, district police chief for the area in the southern province of Kampong Speu, said at least 11 people had been injured in the collapse, some seriously, adding that the rescue operation had ended.

"Two workers -- a man and a woman -- were killed," he told AFP.

The concrete ceiling had been used to store equipment and materials and had likely collapsed because it could not hold the weight due to "poor construction", he added.

Last month a nine-storey factory complex outside Dhaka collapsed, killing 1,127 people in one of the world's worst industrial disasters. The tragedy put pressure on Western retailers that rely on cheap labour in the region, where safety standards are often inadequate.

Say Sokny of Cambodia's Free Trade Union, a national body for garment and other industrial workers, said the factory -- "Wing Star Shoes" -- is Taiwanese-owned and produces shoes for Japanese sports brand ASICS.

National police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said the factory owner was being questioned to find out whether there was a permit for the construction and how the factory -- in Angsokun village, 50 km (30 miles) south of Phnom Penh -- was built.

Earlier, one employee said more than a hundred people work in that area of the plant each day, although she did not know how many had been there at the time of the collapse.

"I was so shocked. I am crying. I saw blood in the debris," Sokny, 29, told AFP.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said the incident would fuel fears among the country's workers about industrial safety.

"Garment factories in Cambodia do not meet international safety standard because the quality of the buildings are not ensured and people have been working with a high risk of danger," he told AFP.

"We are calling for the government and authorities to re-examine the quality of the factory buildings in order to avoid this kind of incident in the future. It happened in Bangladesh recently and now it has happened in Cambodia. We are very worried about the safety of the workers."

Cambodia earned $4.6 billion from its garment exports last year but a series of strikes has highlighted festering discontent at low wages and tough conditions.

Protests by workers have also turned ugly. Three women, employees of Puma supplier Kaoway Sports, were wounded when a gunman opened fire on protesters demanding better working conditions at factories in February last year.

The shooting prompted Puma, Gap and H&M to express their "deep concern" and urged a thorough investigation.

But discontent lingers on the factory floor where 400,000 people of the 650,000 people employed in the industry work for foreign firms.

The monthly minimum wage for the hundreds of thousands of workers who make clothes for firms such as Levi Strauss of the United States and Sweden's H&M this month rose from $61 to $75, plus $5 for health care, after months of protest.

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