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One year after the death of seven workers, Chinese sweatshops in Tuscany are still elusive to regulate

by Silvia Pieraccini

Sweeping checks for Chinese companies in Prato. One year has gone by since the fire that ravaged a Chinese low-cost clothing factory in this Tuscan city and killed seven Asian workers. These workers died during their sleep in an illegally constructed loft in the pavilion, after having worked a strenuous day on the assembly line.

It is precisely a respect for the rules - that for more than 20 years were ignored by the Chinese community that constructed a low-cost clothing district in Prato based on illegality and tax evasion (4,000 companies, 40,000 workers, €2 billion sales with 50% of it not declared) - that's behind these checks instituted by Tuscan local administrators after the fire and now under way.

The project consists of sweeping chceks: 4,000 Chinese manufacturers in Prato and 3,700 active in Florence, Empoli and Pistoia, for a total of 7,700. The plan, which costs €15 million and will continue for three years, focuses, at least in this phase, on implementing work safety norms.

During the first three months of checks, 859 companies were examined, and the result confirmed the difficulty of prosecuting these irregularities: 93 companies no longer existed at the address indicated to the Chamber of Commerce, 77 became statute-barred, 396 were in violation of norms, 62 were impounded (of which 48 in Prato); only 242 companies were found to be in order.

“It's clear that the situation is particularly serious and complicated in Prato,” commented the President of the Tuscan Region Enrico Rossi.

“The Chinese authorities, the Consul and the Ambassador, must do their part,” commented the General Prosecutor of Florence's Appeals Court, Tindari Baglione, initiating a commemoration for the blaze in the town hall.

“Seven Chinese workers died in the factory blaze because of illegal conditions, “ added Prato's Head Prosecutor, Antonio Sangermano.

For that blaze, a trial is currently under way involving three Chinese managers from the Teresa Moda factory (the factory was, in fact, a dummy corporation) and the two Italian owners of the property.