Fire kills seven and injures three in Italy

05.12.2013

At least seven migrant garment workers of Chinese origin died and three were injured in the blaze on 1 December 2013 in an industrial zone of the town of Prato in Tuscany region of Italy.

The fire happened on Sunday morning in a warehouse of a textile factory, on top of which according to local mass media reports there was an improvised dormitory made of small cardboard compartments where 11 workers slept.

The victims were reportedly Chinese immigrants.

Over recent years once one of the biggest textile dominated the industrial zone of Macrolotto where the tragedy happened has seen the biggest decline since World War Two. Likewise in many other industrialized countries in the search for bigger profit many textile companies moved from Italy to countries with less protected and lower paid workforce.

However, that was not the end of textile industry in Macrolotto zone. In fact the zone saw a new development, and for some years many Chinese companies come there. Producing in Italy makes part of the branding and is an added value to the final product. Currently there are more than 4,500 companies leading commercial activities in the zone. These companies employ some 30,000 legal migrants of Chinese origin and an unclear number of illegal migrants working and living in precarious conditions similar to the ones resulted in death of the workers.

According to the IndustriALL Italian affiliate FEMCA-CISL, the union representing textile and garment workers, these companies are characterized by a high turnover, non-respect of national norms, in addition they often close down their operations in a very short period of time, thus preventing any possible trace down of their operations. Their final market also remains oblique. Recently the union noticed that these companies started to appear also in other sectors.

FEMCA is working in two directions, by representing the interests of workers independently of their origin and stimulating a rising of culture of legality and integration. However the closures blocking legal denunciations and blackmailing against workers bring all efforts to nought. The union believes a more comprehensive approach is needed including setting up a special institutional body able to do better monitoring and coordination of enforcement actions including through strengthened public bodies. In addition the union believes the authorities should support the companies operating legally with respect to the rules of work and dignity. If measures are not taken now the union considers the new tragedy will be just a question of time.