Grief and rage in Delhi after factory deaths

Devastation: These relatives of the victims gathered outside a hospital mortuary. © Reuters

Who is to blame for sweatshops? Another disaster has thrown a spotlight onto fast fashion brands that exploit cheap labour. But some argue that the blame falls on appalling local management.

The fire broke out in the workshop of an illegal factory in Delhi’s tightly-packed Azad Market area. By 5:22 am local time, when the nearest fire department received the first calls for help, the blaze had spread to the third floor where 100 garment workers slept. At least 43 were killed.

“We woke up with cries and shouts for help,” said Ronak Khan, a 17-year-old living next door to the factory. “I saw people trapped. We asked them to come to the rooftop so that we could rescue them but they were not able to come up.”

Outside, large crowds gathered in the winding, narrow streets and looked on in horror. They stayed long into the morning, many anxiously awaiting news of loved ones.

The fire, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called “horrific”, is one of many across Indian cities where safety regulations are lax and many buildings poorly planned.

But it is also a fresh reminder of the painful human cost of the fast fashion industry, which employs millions of people around the world. Churning out clothing for 14 hours a day or more, for very low pay, sweatshop workers are often harassed and abused.

Who is to blame for sweatshops?

House of horrors

Most would say the fashion brands desperate to widen profit margins are at fault. They have “driven the income and working conditions of […] factory workers to the absolute rock bottom”, claim TruthOut.org. It is a classic example of the West exploiting developing nations for its own gain.

But for Bhagwati, it is abundantly “clear — except to those who are fixated on the brands as greedy capitalist predators — that it is the owners and managers who must be held responsible”. The causes of these fires — poor regulation and planning, lack of inspections — are down to the local operators. It is time for authorities to step up.

You Decide

  1. Are fashion brands to blame for sweatshops?

Activities

  1. Highlight three facts and three opinions in the above story, in different colours.

Some People Say...

“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.”

Lucy Siegle, British journalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Forty-three workers were killed in the early hours of Sunday morning, when a fire broke out in an illegal garment factory that made school bags. Around 100 workers were sleeping on the third floor.
What do we not know?
Exactly how many brands use sweatshops to make their clothes. Supply chains can be long and hard to track.

Word Watch

Delhi
The capital of India. The area of the city where the factory was located is tightly packed with narrow streets, which made it difficult for help to arrive.
Narendra Modi
He is leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Right-wing, Hindu nationalist organisation.
Lax
Not strict enough.
Fast fashion
Used to describe low-priced clothing that is not built to last long. It is made and sold quickly to match current trends.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.