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Fire Kills Seven in Indian Factory that Made Denim for Major US Brands

Another fire has claimed factory workers lives.

This time, a blaze burned through the two-story Nandan Denim factory in Ahmedabad, India on Saturday evening. The death toll at the factory operated by the Chiripal Group, which counts a host of global brands among its clients, has so far reached seven workers, according to reports in local news outlet The Indian Express. A lack of fire safety in the building is largely to blame for the incident.

Zara, Target, VF Corp., Ralph Lauren and Primark are among the brands and retailers Nandan Denim—which claims to be India’s largest and the world’s fourth largest integrated denim fabric maker—listed as clients in its annual report for 2018-19. Since the news broke, however, many of the brands have claimed they do not have a relationship with the factory, Zara among them.

“Nandan Denim Ltd. has never produced any items for Zara,” a company spokesperson told Sourcing Journal.

Target issued a similar denial, telling Sourcing Journal, “We are deeply saddened by the tragic news of this fire and our thoughts are with those affected at this time. Target does not have a relationship with this supplier. We understand that we are listed on their website and in their annual report and we are taking appropriate steps to have Target removed.”

A spokesperson for Ralph Lauren said, “The incident in the Nandan Denim factory in India was a horrible tragedy, and our thoughts are with the victims’ families. While we had no production in this factory, we take very seriously our responsibility to ensure a safe, healthy and respectful environment for the people who make our products, and these requirements extend to all of our business partners.”

Expressing its own dismay at the tragedy, VF Corp. also reached out to disassociate itself from the factory.

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“The fire at the Nandan Denim factory is a terrible tragedy. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. Fires like these reinforce the importance of critical life safety work at factories, especially the work of industry initiatives,” a company spokesperson said. “VF is not a customer of Nandan Denim. The factory website is incorrect. We have attempted to contact the factory but have received no response.”

Though the cause of the fire has not yet been reported, The Indian Express said the blaze began in the shirting department of the factory where more than 60 workers were present without ventilation and unable to escape quickly enough through the single door for entry and exit.

“More than 55 fire tenders reached the spot and it took us around 22 hours to douse the fire. The factory premises were filled with denim, other fabrics and machinery, all of which caught fire,” Ahmedabad chief fire officer Rajesh Bhatt told The Indian Express. “The victims were present on the first floor of the factory.”

The deceased workers, whose bodies were uncovered over the course of the weekend, ranged in age from 22 to 47, according to reports. Nandan Denim has promised to pay 1 million Indian rupees ($14,000) to the surviving families of the workers, and provide a job to one family member of each of the deceased.

An early survey of the factory revealed that the facility wasn’t adequately equipped with exit doors, and had “no fire safety measures in place,” The Indian Express reported local police as saying. As such, the factory’s managing director, CEO, fire safety officer and others, have been taken into custody on charges of culpable homicide and negligence.

In its annual report, however, Nandan Denim calls out “creating a better world” as one of the company’s key objectives, and lists a water treatment plant, Oeko Tex 100 certification, GOTS 5.0 certification and BCI certification, among its assets and accolades.

The Director of Industrial Safety and Health, a branch of India’s labor and employment department, has issued a closure notice to the factory as a result of the fire.

“We will review the safety aspects before allowing resumption of manufacturing operations,” Labour and Employment Department chief secretary Vipul Mittra, told The Indian Express.

This is the second deadly factory fire in India in the last two months. In December, a fire broke out at a Delhi handbag factory, killing as many as 43 workers. According to reports, the factory was operating illegally and without fire safety clearance, and as many as 100 workers had been sleeping in the facility when the blaze broke out.

Update Feb. 12 3:30 p.m.: Since publication, Zara, Target, Ralph Lauren and VF Corp. have contacted Sourcing Journal confirming they are not making product with Nandan Denim. The update adds their statements.