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Preventing India’s Factory Disasters | Human Rights Watch

A fire engine stands by the site of a factory fire in in New Delhi, India, December 8, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Manish Swarup

On Sunday morning in Delhi, a fire broke out in a factory that produced school bags. Many factory workers, migrants from other parts of India, were sleeping inside. More than 40 people, reportedly including several children, died in the blaze that burned the factory down. It’s not currently known what brands the factory produced.

The Delhi police have arrested the factory and building owners, and authorities said the factory was operating without relevant permits for fire and building safety. The presence of children raises concerns about child labor at the factory.

Factory disasters should be a thing of the past – and they could be if clothing and accessory brands took action as they did after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,000 workers.

The 2013 Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety – a legally binding agreement between 200 global brands and retailers, mostly European and global unions – contributed to significant reforms. The dramatic improvements in fire and building safety resulting from the accord has important lessons for other countries.

Under the agreement, brands changed how they did business with factories. Brands monitored the factory remediation program, and could terminate business with factories that did not carry out necessary repairs despite repeated warnings.

India should adapt key features of the Bangladesh Accord – including its legally binding nature, transparent reporting of progress on fire and building reforms, a responsible exit strategy from brands, and protection against retaliation for workers who make complaints.

India’s federal government has announced compensation of 200,000 rupees (US$2,800) to families of those who died in this weekend’s fire, and 10,000 rupees ($140) for those injured. Additionally, the Delhi government announced 1 million rupees ($14,000) to those who died and 100,000 rupees ($1,400) to those injured.

The government should also provide rehabilitation for those with temporary or permanent disabilities caused by the fire, and support future employment with reasonable accommodation. They should also provide mental health services to all those impacted by the disaster.

The clothes, shoes, and bags that are a part of our everyday lives should not be made on the dead bodies of workers. 

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