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Pope condemns 'cancer' of exploitative labor

Pope Francis has called for an end to 'inhuman' factory working conditions during a speech in Prato, Italy. The city has become a symbol for illegal immigration and exploitative labor practices after a 2013 factory fire.

Pope Francis denounced abusive and illegal labor practices on Tuesday during a speech at the city of Prato, an Italian industrial city near Florence. The city, known as Italy's little China, became a symbol for uncontrolled immigration and labor exploitation after a factory fire killed seven Chinese workers.

"The life of every community requires that we fight the cancer of corruption, the cancer of human and labor exploitation and the poison of illegality," Francis said to the crowd in Prato, some of whom carried Chinese flags and banners. “We will never tire of fighting for the truth,” he assured.

Speaking with residents gathered outside of the city's cathedral, Francis remembered the seven victims, saying every person deserves respect and fair work. "It is a tragedy of exploitation and inhuman living conditions - that is not dignified work," he said.

On December 1, 2013 one of the numerous garment factories in Prato caught fire, leading to the deaths of seven people. The five men and two women were illegal Chinese immigrants who slept in boxes on their factory's floor after having worked 16 hour shifts.

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Officially, Prato is home to around 40,000 Chinese immigrants, with only 16,000 officially registered. The city is a major player in the production of cheap garments which are made in unregulated factories that are often also used to house the underpaid workers.

Italy's Chinese textile business owners have prospered in the area, dominating the "pronto moda" (ready to wear fashion). Since the accident, Prato has worked to end the practice of ignoring labor laws and tax evasion.

"Every week, we try to visit 20 Chinese businesses, we explain to them the rules they need to follow in terms of safety, the environment and book-keeping. Then we help them to understand and respect the legislation in force," said Wang Li Ping, an Italian Chinese involved in Italy's National Confederation of Craftsmanship (CNA). The city hopes to serve as a model for the future, trying to shake its labor abusive past.

At the end of his speech in Prato, Pope Francis, whose papacy has emphasized migrant and worker's rights, traveled to Florence to eat lunch with the poor and address a conference on the Italian Catholic Church. This visit marks his 11th papal visit within Italy.

rs/jil (AP, AFP, dpa, KNA)

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