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Factory Fires Kill 3 in India, Highlighting Urgent Need for Safety Reforms

Three people have died after a fire ripped through a garment label factory Saturday in Ahmedabad, the same western Indian city where a blaze at a denim manufacturer killed seven workers earlier this month.

Workers at the factory, which local media identified as Lotus Label Industries, were working in a room with no windows or ventilation when the fire broke out in an adjacent rayon-storage area on the third floor, fire chief M.F. Dastoor told the Times of India. “They died from asphyxiation,” he said.

Dastoor said a cylinder in the room blew up in the fire but another was brought out safely. The cause of the blaze has yet to be determined, but it took three fire tenders and five tankers three hours to extinguish the inferno.

Another conflagration took place Sunday night at a yarn manufacturing facility in the town of Bhiwandi in Maharashtra’s Thane district, though no casualties were reported. Three fire engines spent more than five hours dousing the flames, fire officials said.

Labor rights campaigners were already calling for urgent action on worker safety in the wake of the Feb. 8 fire at Nandan Denim, where workers were essentially trapped on a floor with a single exit, accessible only by climbing a steep ladder, according to reports.

The incident “painfully shows” the need for “concerted preventive safety measures” throughout India’s garment industry, the Clean Clothes Campaign said in a statement last week. Nandan claimed on its website that it was one of the world’s largest integrated denim makers, with international clients such as Ann Taylor, Ralph Lauren, Target and Zara, though the same companies have since denied any kind of sourcing relationship.

But Nandan was “no hidden factory far away from the purview of international companies or auditing firms,” noted the Amsterdam-based campaign, which is the garment sector’s largest alliance of labor unions and non-governmental organizations.

“The fact that even such a large, internationally producing factory can turn out to maintain units that are obvious death traps is a bad sign for the safety of the many subcontracting and local producers in the country,” it added.

Nandan isn’t even India’s most disastrous fire of late. In December, a fire at a handbag factory in Delhi killed more than 40 workers. The inferno was India’s deadliest since 59 moviegoers died in a cinema in 1997, according to local media.

“This once more shows that structural measures to address fire safety in the Indian garment industry are direly needed,” the campaign said.