We’re still reeling from April’s garment-factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,100 people, making the 112 fatalities of a clothing-factory fire in the same country five months earlier seem tragically routine in comparison. Today’s news, then, of at least 119 deaths in a fire at a poultry plant in northeast China, not only adds another unwanted entry to this history of horror, but also shows that mortally unsafe working conditions are not limited to the apparel industry.
According to Chinese news reports cited by The New York Times, when a fire broke out inside the Baoyuanfeng Poultry Plant, “a major domestic poultry supplier,” workers rushed to the factory’s few exits only to find some of them blocked -- the same safety hazard that made November’s fire in a Bangladesh factory so lethal, and that killed workers in the U.S.’s notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire a century ago (which spurred important safety reforms in this country).
Industrial-scale ag is taking off in China thanks to a growing middle class with an appetite for meat. The Baoyuanfeng plant began operations just four years ago in Jilin Province, whose administrative city, Dehui, “has promoted itself as a base for commercial agriculture,” and claims it can produce 250 million broiler chickens a year. Last week’s announcement that Chinese meat company Shuanghui hopes to buy U.S. pork behemoth Smithfield demonstrated the global implications of a rapidly expanding Chinese meat market. This week’s tragedy shows the human consequences.