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2 Dead, 18 Injured in Footwear Factory Fire

Two people died and approximately 18 were injured in a fire incident in India’s Delhi’s Narela Industrial Area. The local fire department received a call about the blaze at a footwear factory at 9:35 am on Tuesday.

A total of 10 fire tenders rushed to the site to douse the flames, Delhi Fire Services chief Atul Garg told the Hindustan Times. The Indian Express reported that police said there was an explosion and many workers were trapped due to smoke.

Conflicting reports state that factory owner Sahil Garg has been arrested or is on the run. According to police, property owner Krishan Garg—Sahil’s father—has been detained.

The identity of the deceased is still being determined, and those injured have been transported to a hospital for treatment, police reported.

“Initially, we rescued 3-4 people from the building,” Atul Garg told the Hindustan Times. “It was a hectic firefighting operation and our team managed to rescue almost everyone in time.”

A firefighter on the scene reported that the factory contained large quantities of combustible materials, such as plastic and rubber, which caused smoke and fire to spread within minutes. “We broke windows and rescued the people,” the official said. “Cranes and fire tenders were called in.”

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Delhi police official Devesh Kumar Mahla told the Indian Express that law enforcement has registered a first information report under the Indian Penal Code for negligence regarding machinery (section 287), causing hurt by an act endangering the life or personal safety of others (section 337), and culpable homicide (section 34). Sources claimed a chemical leak caused the explosion, which is being investigated by the police and fire department.

An injured survivor who escaped said there was barely any room outside to go to.

“I heard a loud noise and there was a lot of smoke. Everything was black and we thought we wouldn’t survive. Many workers took the stairs but soon the fire spread and we couldn’t go there,” the survivor told the Indian Express. “I saw a few workers jumping from the balcony and windows. We were clueless and had to save our lives. We tried going to the roof as well.”

Hailing from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, employees reported that they work 10 hours a day and stay in the factory throughout the night.

In a video uploaded by The Tribune, large smoke plumes emerge from the second and third floor windows. Cranes are shown dousing the smoke with several fire tenders standing by.

This is just the latest factory fire burning the footwear industry.

A footwear warehouse in the southwestern state of Kerala was destroyed on Oct. 13, with initial investigations suggesting an electrical short circuit caused the fire. In Vietnam, a fire at a facility belonging to the Nike supplier Changshin Vietnam required hundreds of firefighters to extinguish the blaze, but not before 120 employees had to evacuate. It was the manufacturer’s—which is the southern province’s biggest employer—second fire in four months.

A fire in a Brazilian factory owned by footwear maker Alpargatas devastated an entire section of machinery in February, though no casualties were reported. Two days later in Bangladesh, at least three people died and 40 were injured after a fire erupted at a shoe factory.

“These factory fires once again demonstrate the urgent need for the Accord, a legally binding agreement on safety, to be expanded across the garment industry,” Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign, the garment sector’s largest coalition of trade unions and labor-advocacy groups, previously told Sourcing Journal. “Without a binding agreement that holds brands to account for safety violations in their supply chain, many more factory disasters will occur and lives will be lost. No one should have to risk their life simply by going to work.”

On the clothing side of the business, a recent study shows that industry safety in Bangladesh’s apparel sector is getting worse. According to the Centre for Policy Dialogue, the number of worker injuries in mainly medium and large ready-made garment factories rose by approximately 24 percent between 2019 and 2020.

But as safety declines, imports rise.

U.S. footwear imports increased 27.4 percent in the first six months of the year to 1.35 billion pairs, according to data from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA). With the sector growing, the industry needs to prioritize employee safety to win business and attract investments away from top suppliers China and Vietnam, which combined, made up 74 percent U.S. market share in the first half of 2022, OTEXA reported. India’s footwear shipments to the U.S. increased 53.6 percent to 21.39 million pairs for the first six months of the year, OTEXA data shows.

”It would be a logical next step to ensure that footwear factories undergo the same transparent monitoring processes as Accord-covered garment and textile factories, and that there are real penalties if factories and brands do not comply,” Christie Miedema, campaign and outreach coordinator with the Clean Clothes Campaign, previously told Sourcing Journal. “Footwear brands must take this as a wake-up call and move to bring their factories under the Accord.”