In response to a factory fire in January that killed sixteen people, the Wenling government in eastern China’s Zhejiang province has been tightening safety restrictions on the shoe manufacturing industry, shuttering factories and detaining their owners.
A spokesperson for the Wenling government reported that 4,559 shoe factories have been closed down since the fire, and at least 230 factory owners have been arrested and another 184 detained for questioning.
The fire at the Taizhhou Dadong factory on January 14 killed six men and ten women, subsequently highlighting China’s woeful factory safety conditions. In the aftermath of the disaster, city officials inspected its more than 6,000 factories and found a majority of them to be sorely lacking adequate safety measures. Most were overcrowded, many lacked fire exits and few had any fire extinguishers.
Wenling has emerged as a major hub of shoe production in China, producing up to one billion pairs of shoes per year. More than 80 percent of its factories are relatively small in size and many of them jerry-built structures, shoddily constructed. A considerable number of these facilities count as “three-in-one” factories,” meaning they simultaneously function as a factory, a warehouse and a residence for workers.
Wenling authorities say they want to reopen the closed factories as soon as they can satisfy the local safety regulations.