Shenzhen's shame

IT will be some time before the cause of Friday's frightful fire in a Shenzhen toy factory is established. The heat from the blaze has destroyed much of the infrastructure, making the work of the investigators more difficult. But what is clear is the need for stricter controls on such factories in anything-goes Shenzhen. Those who tried to flee the inferno were unable to escape because windows and doors had been locked, apparently to keep workers inside the factory. Many of the dead were found on staircases, some possibly trampled in the crush to escape.

The tragedy should force the Shenzhen authorities to reappraise the appalling industrial safety record that has accompanied the region's rapid growth. Shenzhen has become an economic miracle in such a short time that concerns about safety have been givena low priority. Despite calls for tougher standards following a similar tragedy in August when a depot for storing dangerous goods was rocked by blasts, nothing appears to have been done.

However, the time will soon come when Shenzhen will need to apply some of the strict industrial and safety regulations that have been in existence in more industrialised nations for many years.

Entrepreneurs will no doubt protest at increased overheads, reduced competitiveness and Western-style mollycoddling that could result when tougher standards are imposed. But the simple fact is that no economic growth is worth the loss of 81 lives. It is too high a price to pay.