BEIJING — The sheer scale of workplace safety risks and labor violations in China is coming into sharper focus after the deadly fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh and a more recent, smaller blaze at a factory in the southern city of Shantou.
China remains the world’s leading textile producer. Its vast network of factories, fueled by migrant labor from poor provinces, is a major source of an unsettling number of workplace-related injuries every year.
On Tuesday, a Chinese man set fire to the Shantou garment factory where he once worked, killing 14 young women and injuring another who worked there. The incident sparked questions both about China’s workplace safety and continuing labor violations at the country’s factories that often lead to protests and sometimes violent actions.
Liu Shuangyun, who has been arrested after the Shantou fire, told Guangdong TV he was angry about the equivalent of less than $500 in unpaid wages the underwear factory owed him from when he quit his job three years ago. Liu, 26, said he didn’t think about the potential loss of life when he set the fire, and that he now regretted what he had done. Liu said he was furious that his boss came up with repeated excuses to avoid paying him over the course of several years and he set the factory on fire in frustration.
Geoffrey Crothall, communications director for China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based labor rights monitoring organization, explained that because of lack of oversight, smaller factories in China are typically prone to the worst safety problems.
Large Chinese factories are more typically under watch and in compliance, but in Guangdong province and across the Pearl River Delta and other manufacturing hubs, makeshift factories can pop up in residential complexes, small buildings and spaces ill-equipped with safety equipment or proper procedures. Old equipment, lack of training and having workers live in the factory adds to the potential for danger.
“There are not enough personnel or resources for local government to make sure all the factories are up to code,” said Crothall. “There are simply far too many factories and far too few government staff to get the job done.”
Factory managers in China say there are stricter guidelines and more enforcement than five years ago. But they also say policing is more often done at larger workshops and smaller, fly-by-night production houses are not watched with the same scrutiny.
In recent years, China has said its workplace fatalities have declined. But the numbers remain higher than anywhere else, with nearly 90,000 people killed on the job and almost 400,000 injured at work in 2010, according to the government official labor statistics.
Annual figures have not been published for 2011, but there have been no significant reforms or advances in workplace safety.
In fact, workplace accidents are so common in China and the numbers of people engaged in potentially dangerous work, deadly accidents like coal mine disasters can almost begin to seem routine. But Crothall said China has not had a major factory fire as deadly as the one in Bangladesh since 1994.
American companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Walt Disney Co. have distanced themselves from a supplier after the factory fire in Bangladesh last week killed 112 garment workers. The blaze at Bangladesh’s Tazreen Fashions Ltd.’s factory north of Dhaka left the workshop ruined and 1,200 workers who survived without jobs or income.
The fragmented supplier chain that is global manufacturing provides the same distance to U.S. companies that produce goods in China. Often workers don’t know where the goods they produce are sold, or for which brands their work is ultimately made. But workers in China are continuing to amass better knowledge of their rights under China’s emergent labor contract law, which came into effect in 2008.
On that note, wage and contract clashes are likely to remain a source of tension and potential danger, as seen in Shantou. CLB documented more than 100 labor disputes and strikes in China last month alone, the majority of them related to wage disputes and factories moving to cheaper parts of China or closing down all together.
“We are seeing a lot of disputes related to factories closing down or relocating and workers not being paid,” said Crothall. “The bosses just close up shop, sell off the machinery and run away.”
Luxury handbag resale company @rebagofficial is planning to sell a rare collectible for $70,000: the @hermes White Crocodile Himalayan Birkin. The exclusive Birkin sold for about $100,000 in 2008, when @davidbeckham bought one for his wife @victoriabeckham to add to her collection. Read more about the rare Birkin on WWD.com #wwdaccessories
With her costume pearl necklace and what-you-see-is-what-you-get style, Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday at age 92, was a straight-shooter from start to finish.
Born Barbara Pierce in New York City, Bush served as the 37th first lady, as well as the country’s second lady from 1981 to 1989. In addition to being part of the longest presidential marriage — 73 years — Bush also had the unlikely distinction of having one son, George W., become the 43rd president and another son, Jeb, run unsuccessfully in 2016. Having served as second lady during the Reagan administration’s two terms and lived all over the world during her own husband’s ascending political career, Barbara Bush made it clear that literacy — not fashion — was her priority. Read more from Rosemary Feitelberg’s obituary on the late First Lady in WWD.com, link in bio. #barbarabush #wwdnews
Western and ’90s trends have influenced denim for fall 2018. Think raw, dark and coated jeans mixed with bold prints and tough leather. #trendtuesdays #wwdfashion (Styled by @thealexbadia;📷: @ryanplett)
@denimdaysfestival, which initially launched in Amsterdam in 2014 and has since expanded to New York, is heading to Nashville for the very first time. The two-day festival, which will take place in November, will feature brand activations, hands-on workshops by artisans and denim mills, a vintage market, live entertainment, and local food and drinks. Get all the details on WWD.com. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
Later this month, the popular “Diana: Her Fashion Story” exhibit will be reopening. @historicroyalpalaces, the charity that manages @kensingtonroyal, has been working towards adding new, never-before-seen garments to the exhibit, including this dress created by Gianni Versace for a fund-raising dinner at the Museum of Natural History in Chicago. The exhibit will reopen on April 26 at Kensington Palace @wwdfashion
“Our family has always been engaged and interested in the world around us. [My brothers and I] were always encouraged to have our own opinion at a young age, which is not always something a child is asked — especially to have an opinion with reasoning behind it,” said @yarashahidi on becoming an activist. We caught up with the 18 year old last week, where she talked about her road to acting, how “Black-ish” led her to start conversations about identity and more. Head to WWD.com to read what she had to say #wwdeye (📷: @chelsealaurenla)