By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Questions of worker safety and possible foul play are raised after seven workers die in blaze at a small factory in Bangladesh.
On Saturday, a fire ravaged a small factory owned by Smart Exports Garment Ltd in the Dhaka metropolitan area. Roughly 50 people were injured in the stampede, 6 had to be rushed to the hospital and at least 7 women workers were found trampled to death amidst the chaos.
Executive Director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, Kalpona Akter, reported that Smart Exports Garment Ltd had been subcontracted to fill orders by other garment factories. This particular company was not a member of the Bangladesh garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association. Lacking membership, the company was unlicensed by fire prevention and labor governing bodies.
Factory worker, Raushan Ara, reported to a local newspaper that the emergency exit was locked when workers tried to flee the blaze. Spectators reported that some of the trapped workers attempted to jump out of second story windows.
Jahangir Kabir Nanak, a government official, has been assigned to investigate the possibility of foul play due to the allegations that the emergency exit was locked, trapping many of the workers inside the factor during the fire.
Altaf Hossain, father of one of the casualties sustained in the fire, is seeking legal action, bringing cases of negligence against three of the directors of the factory. The police have begun their own independent investigation into the alleged crimes.
Abdul Halim, a fire official, has reported that the actual cause of the fire continues to remain a mystery as the fire department continues their investigation. Preliminary findings suggest that the fire was caused by electrical short circuit in the upper floor of the two-story building.
International labor rights groups, including The Worker Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, and the International Labor Rights Forum, have called for better accountability in the apparel industry to improve garment workers’ rights in this part of the world.
The large brand companies that contract these factories to make their clothing continue to keep their internal audit and investigation results secret, marginalize trade unions, and simply walk away from these types of tragedies when convenient.
Bangladesh currently operates roughly 4,500 garment factories and is one of the world’s largest exporters of clothing. The garment manufacturing industry currently makes up about 80% of Bangladesh’s $24 billion in annual exports.
It is unclear whether or not the clothing made in this particular factory was destined for western markets as initial reports have been conflicting. This tragedy comes merely two months after one of Bangladesh’s worst factory fires which occurred in the Tazreen Fashions Ltd factory, killing 112 workers and injuring 150 others.
For further information, please see:
The Global Times – Foreign labels found in latest Bangladesh factory fire – 27 January 2013
The Times of Northwestern India – Bangladesh probing if factory’s 1 exit was locked – 27 January 2013
Reuters – Labor rights groups seek action after Bangladesh factory blaze – 27 January 2013
Belfast Telegraph – Bangladesh factory fire kills seven – 26 January 2013