7 June, 2022On 3 June, around 400 women workers at Brandix India Apparel garment factory in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Atchutapuram, India, fell ill after inhaling hazardous gas.
Some workers fainted, others complained of headaches, stomach pain, vomiting, nausea, and burning eyes. According to media reports, workers had to wait for ambulances as management looked for hospitals in the region.
The factory employs 22,000 people, 18,000 of which are women, and clearly lack healthcare facilities on site.
Contract workers make up the majority of the workforce in India’s special economic zones. The entry of trade union office bearers into SEZs is restricted, making organizing difficult. And the low unionization rate makes it difficult for workers to speak out against plant owners’ negligence.
Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary, says:
“The dismal industrial safety situation in the SEZ is again exposed by a gas. The authorities in charge have failed to provide workers with safe working conditions, showing serious lapses on the part of the regulatory bodies. The only way to change this is to ensure that trade unions have access to SEZs.”
What kind of gas was leaked and where it came from have yet to be determined.
Two years ago, lethal styrene vapours leaked from a factory in the city, prompting the government to appoint a committee. The committee made recommendations, including the need for a comprehensive industrial safety audit of all hazardous industries in and around Vishakhapatnam, located in the same region as Brandix India Apparel garment factory, but the occupational safety and working conditions in the city's industrial units remain precarious.
Photo: Brandix Apparel