Today, a devastating fire broke out at a poultry processing plant located in Jilin Province in northeastern China. The fire is being reported as one of the worst China factory disasters in years.

As we pen this commentary, 119 workers have been reported as killed with scores of other injured as workers were reported to be trapped inside the factory complex.  According to news reports, 350 workers were inside the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Company facility at the time of this incident which was in the early morning hours, local time, after a shift change.  Reports further indicate that an explosion preceded this fire, as workers began to panic and rush toward factory exits. According to an Associated Press report, Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry produces 67,000 tons of processed chicken per year and employs upwards of 1200 workers.

The Guardian provides some rather dramatic video of the thick smoke pouring out of the factory and a worker describing conditions. The New York Times quotes (paid subscription or free metered view) China’s Xinhua official news agency as reporting that “people responsible” in the company that operates this factory have been arrested. Xinhua also reported that both China’s prime minister and president both issued orders regarding this incident.

What is most disturbing are multiple media reports indicating that only one exit was available while other fire exits were locked. This again calls into question whether industry and government have made any progress relative to consistent and acceptable factory safety standards regarding fire safety. This fire incident in China comes at the time of growing concern and media coverage over factory safety across Bangladesh.

While it is still rather early in the ongoing investigations, there will probably be further implications from this current incident.  It is yet another reminder of the extent of factory safety standards across emerging economies and one that supply chain executives should be concerned about.

Bob Ferrari