More than a hundred garment workers were hospitalized in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh after they succumbed to fumes from a suspected gas leak at their factory.
Monday’s incident, which affected 130 women at a Brandix India Apparel City unit in the Special Economic Zone at Atchutapuram, was the second such occurrence in two months. A previous gas leak at the same facility in June sickened up to 200 women, according to local media, though an initial audit suggested that it originated from outside the premises.
In both cases, the workers complained of nausea, difficulty breathing and headaches.
Gudivada Amarnath, Andhra Pradesh’s minister of industries, said that Seeds Intimate Apparel, whose clients include Calvin Klein parent PVH Corp. and Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing, will remain closed until the investigation concludes. Neither retailer responded to a request for comment.
The unit, situated on a 1,000-acre “self-sustaining ecosystem,” employs some 2,100 employees, Brandix, the Sri Lankan manufacturing giant that operates the factory, told Sourcing Journal. A spokesperson for the company said that the impacted workers experienced an “unpleasant odor in the atmosphere that affected them mildly.” They were sent for medical treatment as a “precautionary measure.”
“The majority of associates were discharged from hospital within 24 hours, and as of now, only nine remain in hospital—they too are in a stable condition and are held under observation,” the spokesperson said. “We continue to be in touch with them and their families to extend support as needed.”
Brandix said the Seeds’s multi-gas detection system, which it installed as a safeguard after the first leak happened, identified no hazardous substances in the air.
Aman Khan, India coordinator at the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), claimed, however, that the two gas leaks, coupled with Brandix’s alleged Covid-19 violations, demonstrate a failure of the exporter’s duty of care.
“We have now seen three severe health and safety accidents in Brandix factories—both in Andhra Pradesh in India and in Sri Lanka,” Khan told Sourcing Journal. “This makes it clear that in free trade zones where companies like Brandix operate, it is critical to ensure freedom of association so that workers can raise their issues openly. A failure of employers to respect freedom of association puts workers’ lives at risk.”
The labor-rights group published a report in April accusing the Gap Inc. and Victoria’s Secret supplier of intimidating and harassing workers and union leaders in Sri Lanka after they blamed the company for mismanaging the pandemic’s second wave, resulting in a “superspreader event” in a free trade zone outside of Colombo that infected thousands.
Brandix denounced the allegations as “untrue and unfounded.” It also pointed to two separate government investigations that found no evidence that the factory “had in any way” contributed to the spread of infection.
“In other words, there is clearly no basis for the allegations made in the report,” a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal at the time. “It is unfortunate that AFWA chose to put out a report on ‘issues’ that have long since been settled or resolved. The content in the report is inaccurate and replete with falsehoods. The report sullies a reputation for ethical behavior, created and nurtured over the years by Brandix, without offering any credible evidence beyond alleged statements made by a few workers, who are apparently unidentified for confidentiality reasons.”