14/01/2016 — auf Deutsch lesen

Pope denounces poor conditions

The Italian city of Prato has roughly 190,000 inhabitants and is considered a bastion of the textile industry. The city has a migrant population of 35,000, more than half of whom are Chinese. Most of them work in textile factories in the little Tuscan city, just 25km from Florence. Unfortunately, they are being exposed to terrible working conditions. The news that seven workers had died in a fire that had broken out in an illegal textile factory in 2013, hit the global headlines and deeply affected Pope Francis. Last October, he felt compelled to visit the city in the heart of Tuscany.

Speaking to the people in the cathedral square, he emphatically called upon these clandestine businesses to come clean and create humane working conditions for their staff. In recent years, illicit work and corruption have infiltrated and spread like a cancer through Prato’s textile industry. The authorities are clearly struggling to control the situation, even though they are aware of the illegal sweatshops that treat their Chinese workers like “slaves”. Confined in the tightest of spaces, they are forced to work around the clock, sewing cheap, illegal garments for men, women and children.

The clothes are sold all over Europe, and are labelled “Made in Italy”. Working all hours of the day and night, the migrants are often exposed to conditions that pose a threat to human life. There are no safety measures in place and the staff frequently sleep next to their sewing machines. The hygiene levels are hazardous, with insufficient sanitary facilities. The majority of production sites have no windows and therefore no natural light, located as they are in cellar rooms or disused warehouses, piled high with fabrics. Despite the fire risks, no fire safety measures are in place. Prato has already been described by the media as the “rag centre of Europe”. "It’s a human tragedy,” Pope Francis stated during his visit, concluding, “This work is not fit for humans.”

[Ingrid Sachsenmaier]