43 people have died as a result of a fire that broke out in a garment factory in New Delhi while 16 others are being treated for burns and smoke inhalation.
The fire brigade received the call alerting them to the blaze at 05:22 local time on Sunday, 8th December (23:52 GMT on Saturday). The cause of the blaze is unknown but is thought to have been the result of an electrical short circuit.
The workers died as a result of the inhalation of poisonous gases. They were sleeping in the factory between their shifts. They were being paid 150 rupees a day (€1.91) and working in extremely poor conditions. The factory, which mainly manufactured handbags, did not have a proper fire license and was operating illegally. The factory owner and manager have been arrested.
The victims were mostly Muslim migrants from the impoverished border region of Bihar in eastern India. Barbar Ali, a family member of a woman who was rescued from the building, explained that the workers had to endure extremely poor conditions in the factory and they had been seeking better wages. “Their only fault was they were poor. Why else would someone work and sleep in such a congested place?” Mr Ali said.
The Prime Minister of India has described the disaster as “extremely horrific” and offered his condolences to family members in a tweet.
The fire in Delhi’s Anaj Mandi on Rani Jhansi Road is extremely horrific. My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. Wishing the injured a quick recovery. Authorities are providing all possible assistance at the site of the tragedy.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 8, 2019
It would appear that nothing has changed since the infamous collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in the Dhaka District of Bangladesh in 2013, in which 1,134 people were killed. After this devastating event brands and trade unions signed the Bangladesh Accord, which was intended to regulate the safety of working conditions in these factories by means of inspection.
However, the garment industry remains dangerous and exploitative. According to the 2015 documentary The True Cost, of the 40 million people who work in the garment industry only 2% are paid a living wage. Not only are illegal factories with substandard working conditions in operation, but workers in these factories suffer abuse.
80% of garment workers are women, but the vast majority of factory managers are men, while women occupy low-level positions in factories – a structure which often leads to gender-based abuse. Global Labour Justice published a report last year which gave an overview of gender-based violence which occurs in the factories of H&M, one of the most popular fast fashion brands in the world.
The reality is that these brands outsource the manufacture of their products to such an extent that it becomes nearly impossible to regulate. On top of that, there is no incentive for them to look into the working conditions in their factories or offer garment workers a living wage while there is no accountability and their profit margins remain so high.
Today, people are becoming increasingly aware of ethics and sustainability when it comes to fashion, and fast fashion brands are beginning to feel the pressure. We as consumers have to be able to tell the difference between when a brand is actually being ethical, or when they are simply slapping a word like “conscious” on to a product in an attempt to appear ethical without providing an explanation of what that means to them. To put it plainly, if a brand is not transparent about their means of production, it’s probably because they would rather you didn’t know.
That is why it is increasingly important that we shop consciously. This can start with something as simple as asking ourselves who makes the clothes we wear, and why their exploitation should feed our consumerism. The devastating case of this New Delhi factory which has burned down is not unique. In most cases, the people who make our clothes work in similar conditions, and risk their lives every day in order to make a wage which they can’t even survive on. We have been given the privilege of a consumer vote, and with it comes the responsibility to exercise it correctly.
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