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Chinese Factory Fire Kills 38 Workers

Flames engulfed a two-story factory in central China on Monday afternoon, killing 38 people and injuring two, many of them women who stitched cotton tops and pants, according to local media.

Situated in Anyang, a city in Henan Province, Kaixinda Trading is described as a wholesaler that traffics in a variety of industrial goods, including specialized chemicals, although Xinhua News, a state-run agency, said that the company “mainly” manufactures clothes. The fire, which began just before 4:30 p.m., took rescue workers four hours to get under control and another four to fully extinguish, state broadcaster CCTV said.

Officials, according to CCTV, blamed the blaze on sparks from non-regulation welding operations that ignited piles of cotton fabric on the premises. Other media outlets reported that the fire amassed its strength from the burning of “plastics, cloths, furniture and medication, among others.” Authorities said that “relevant suspects,” including Kaixinda Trading’s manager, have been placed into custody.

Speaking to China News Service, one survivor said that the fire spread so quickly that they had little time to react. To escape, some workers had to cut fence wires and then jump over a wall. “The wall is over 1-meter high, but the small mound outside helped us, or we would be trapped in the fire,” she said.

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“Tragically, once again in the garment industry, profits have been put over people and this is the devastating result,” Ilana Winterstein, urgent campaigns director at the Clean Clothes Campaign, the garment industry’s largest consortium of trade unions and non-governmental organizations, told Sourcing Journal. “Brands need to pay more for their products to ensure corners are not cut on safety. We urgently need legally binding agreements across the industry, like the Accord in Bangladesh, to hold brands to account for safety failures in their supply chains. Without legal mechanisms in place, more people will lose their lives because brands turn a blind eye to the conditions under which their products are made.”

China is no stranger to industrial disasters, which has raised concerns about workplace safety. After a metal-works factory explosion in Kunshan in Jiangsu Province killed 69 workers and injured hundreds more in 2014, China’s premier Li Keqiang ordered stricter safety checks to avoid similar tragedies from taking place. A year later, however, a series of explosions at a chemical warehouse in the northern port city of Tianjin claimed the lives of 173 people.

In 2019, a powerful blast at a chemical plant in Yancheng killed 78 people and injured more than 600. Last year, a gas explosion killed 25 people and decimated several buildings in the central city of Shiyan. In April, a building collapse just outside the Hunan capital of Changsha killed 53 people following a safety audit that resulted in a false report. And In June, one person was killed and another injured after a petrochemical complex in Shanghai burst into flames.

Fires and other disasters are all too common in the fashion supply chain. A footwear factory fire in India earlier this month killed at least 2 and injured another 18, while a separate facility in the cotton-rich exporting nation went up in flames just weeks earlier.