Jun 10, 2013
The fire that started at 6:00 a.m. on June 3rd in the Jilin Baoyuanfeng poultry processing plant, located on the outskirts of Dehui, about 500 miles northeast of Beijing, resulted in the deaths of at least 120 workers, mostly women. Dozens more were wounded, and more bodies are in all likelihood still buried under the rubble.
Of the plant’s 1,200 employees, it seems that 300 to 350 were on the premises during the 6:00 a.m. shift change. According to different local sources, an explosion due to the ammonia used in the cooling system, or even a short circuit, could have caused the factory to burst into flames. Although the building was new, it was dangerous, thanks to flammable insulation materials covering the dividing walls. These materials were used to maintain the temperature at the necessary level for the carving and packaging of the 67,000 tons of chicken delivered by the factory every year to 20 different cities.
The day after the fire, on June 4th, the friends and loved ones of the victims held an angry demonstration in Dehui. The participants accused the factory owners of flouting the minimum safety precautions and denounced the working conditions, notably the narrow halls used for movement through the building. Several witnesses accused the bosses of keeping most of the exits locked during the shifts, with the goal of preventing workers from going outside to get some fresh air. Only a small door seems to have been kept open, which, in the panic caused by the fire with the lights going out, caused the deaths of all those who remained caught in this trap. Only about one hundred workers were able to escape.
In the agro-industrial zone of Dehui, Jilin Baoyuanfeng is not the largest company. However, there like elsewhere, the bosses consider the workers’ safety as totally secondary, coming well after productivity. Notably, fire safety precautions are totally ignored in a great many Chinese factories, whether in terms of exits, safety equipment, or instructions given to the workforce. Most of the time, the bosses benefit from the voluntary blindness of corrupt local authorities in order to continue production with no regard to the health and the lives of their employees. The coal-mining sector is cited most often for the number of fatalities. However, the number of fires on construction sites and in agro-industrial factories is on the rise – according to the Chinese authorities themselves. In 2011, more than 125,000 workplace fires were recorded, leading to the deaths of more than 1,100 people.
The appetite for profit of the meat-processing capitalists has undoubtedly impacted the working conditions of the workers of Dehui.