The fire at a denim manufacturing facility in Gujarat earlier this month that resulted in seven deaths has led to calls for concerted preventive safety measures throughout India’s garment industry.

The fire occurred at the Nandan Denim factory on 8 February. According to local press, police booked six of the factory’s officials under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and arrested three of them on 9 February.

A fire department official said the fabricated shed structure of the factory go-down had just one staircase with a narrow path without any air ventilation, contributing to the death toll. The fire safety equipment was also found to not be working, according to reports.

According to Nandan Denim’s 2018-19 Annual Report, its customers included Primark, Ralph Lauren, C&A, VF Corp and Inditex-brand, Zara. Approached by just-style, each denied having a sourcing relationship with the mill. According to Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the factory itself has indicated the unit was primarily producing for the local market, but says US import database ‘Import Genius’ shows several recent shipments coming from the factory.

“Nandan Denim was clearly no hidden factory far away from the purview of international companies or auditing firms. 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,” CCC says.

“Media reported that there was only one exit, accessible by a ladder, and that there was no alarm system. After an earlier fire in Delhi in December which killed over 40 workers, and at least ten other fires and major accidents in the direct vicinity of the factory in the last year alone, this once more shows that structural measures to address fire safety in the Indian garment industry are direly needed.”

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CCC questions how apparent safety violations in such a major factory have gone under the radar of government institutions and international brands.

“This means that the supply chain monitoring systems of the major companies sourcing from this factory, usually carried out through commercial auditing firms, have all failed to either detect or remediate the lack of sufficient and safe exits and other safety measures in the factory. A factory spokesperson refused to comment to journalists on whether the factory had undergone audits. Without a credible, transparent, legally binding safety programme that allows for inspection, remediation, training and a complaint mechanism, tragedies like those of this month and December are likely to recur.”

Ashim Roy, president of the Mill Mazdoor Panchayat Union (MMP) in Gujarat says the Nandan Denim fire shows the “gross failure of regulation in this massive denim hub production for global brands”.

He adds: “Labour, fire and safety, and building codes have all been violated. Global brands are equally responsible for the safety of their supply chains and for the compensation of the affected workers in the factory.”

The factory has committed to paying EUR13,000 (US$14,076) in compensation to the families, as well as employing deceased workers’ family members, according to CCC.

“[This] is a promising start, but supply chain responsibility for workplace death and injury should be more than an ad hoc affair, include buyer accountability and ideally also take into account workers’ pain and suffering to make sure to do justice to workers’ rights and needs.”