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India’s Garment-Factory Accidents Not ‘Isolated Incidents’

A rash of industrial accidents in India’s garment industry revives questions about occupational health and safety in the South Asian nation.

In Mumbai last Thursday, one worker died and nine were injured after a slab fell off a one-story garment factory in Chembur. All 10 were rushed to a nearby hospital, where Murari Jha, aged 22, succumbed to his injuries.

“Some people escaped with minor injuries after they held on to parts of the ceiling after the slab collapsed,” an official told the Indian Express, adding that the local police have submitted an accidental death report. “If we find that there was any negligence on the part of the owners of the unit or anyone else, necessary action will be taken.”

On Saturday, a fire broke out in a shoe-manufacturing unit in Dada Nagar Industrial Area in Kanpur, trapping four workers on the fourth floor until they were rescued by firefighters.

The blaze occurred after a pasting machine short-circuited, sending sparks flying in a room filled with combustible material, officials told the Indian Express. One worker was sent to the hospital after fainting from smoke inhalation. Six fire tenders took two hours to douse the flames, and the damage to goods and property is still in the process of being assessed, a fire officer said.

A similar short circuit was blamed for a fire that burned a textile warehouse in the Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh on Monday, though no casualties were reported, according to India Today.

“As part of cost-cutting measures in the highly competitive garment industry, employers do not invest enough in health and safety measures, severely putting workers’ lives at risk,” Iman Khan, India Coordinator of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, told Sourcing Journal.

India is one of the countries where the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, a successor to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, is looking to potentially expand its program. Other subjects of current feasibility studies include Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Morocco.

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The Accord’s aim is to explore the needs and opportunities in textile-producing hubs beyond Bangladesh, where a legally binding inspection and remediation agreement has made significant strides in worker safety.

Freedom of association can also stave off disaster in India’s garment workplaces, Khan said, adding that the past week’s accidents are far from “isolated incidents.”

“They are linked to the erosion of the state’s institutional capacity to implement preventive measures and regulate health and safety standards in industries,” he said. “To ensure decent work and prevent accidents like this, employers must work with trade unions and states must strongly enforce health and safety regulations across all factories.”