Pope denounces human and labour exploitation as he visits Tuscany's Prato

Cheering crowds welcomed Pope Francis in Tuscany on Tuesday morning (November 10) as the pontiff began a day-long pastoral visit to Prato and Florence.

Crowds armed with Vatican flags lined the central square of Prato, the historical capital of Italy's textile business some 25 km (16 miles) outside Florence, early on Tuesday morning, breaking into cheers as the popemobile arrived.

The pope took time to greet the onlookers ahead of a brief visit to Prato Cathedral.

Addressing the crowds from a balcony of the cathedral, Francis departed from his pre-written notes to pay homage to the victims of a fire in a textile factory nearly two years ago.

See photos from the pope's Sunday mass last week:

The fire in the industrial zone near Prato in December 2013 killed seven workers who were apparently sleeping in an improvised dormitory built above the workshop where they were employed.

"It is a tragedy of exploitation and inhumane living conditions. This is not dignified work," the pope said, prompting the crowds in the square to cheer and applaud.

"The life of every community demands that we combat the cancer of corruption, the cancer of the exploitation of people and labour and the poison of illegality," he added as the applause continued.

Prato, with some 15,000 Chinese residents in a population of under 200,000, and thousands of others believed to be working in the area illegally, has become one of the centres of a shadow economy based around ill-supervised and often illegal workshops turning out garments for export as well as for well-known retailers.

Authorities have been struggling to contain the situation for years, setting up a special task force in 2010 involving local officials and law enforcement bodies. But the situation has worsened as Italy's economic recession has cut resources.