At least seven people died and three were injured when a Chinese-owned clothing factory in an industrial zone in the Italian town of Prato, Tuscany, burned down on Sunday, killing workers trapped in an improvised dormitory built onsite.
The blaze, which partly collapsed the factory’s roof, broke out in a loft where 11 people were sleeping, officials said.
More information about the victims’ identities has not been revealed. However, a number of Chinese workers at the factory were known to live on-site at the factory.
So far there is no official explanation for what caused the blaze.
The flames were brought under control by fire authorities by midday on Sunday.
The disaster prompted immediate questions about the conditions on the site and in a network of similar workshops operating in the area, which is noted for its large number of Chinese-owned textile manufacturing businesses, many operating on the fringes of legality.
“No one can say they are surprised at this because everyone has known for years that, in the area between Florence and Prato, hundreds if not thousands of people are living and working in conditions of near-slavery,” Roberto Pistonina, secretary general of the Florence and Prato section of the CISL trade union, said on his Facebook page.
Prato, a town with one of the highest concentrations of Chinese immigrants in Italy, has at least 15,000 legally registered in a total population of under 200,000, with more than 4,000 Chinese-owned businesses, according to official data.
Thousands more Chinese immigrants are believed to be living in the city illegally, working for a network of wholesalers and workshops turning out cheap clothing for the export market as well as well-known retail chains.
The mayor of Prato, Roberto Cenni said there were “thousands of situations potentially as tragic as this one” in the industrial zone around the city and said he had been in contact with Interior Minister Angelino Alfano to combat the illegal “parallel district” which had grown up around the workshops.
mz, ccp/pfd (Reuters, AFP, AP)