Bangladesh factory fire leaves at least seven dead

AFP-JIJI

A huge fire at a Bangladeshi factory where workers were making clothes for labels such as Gap and H&M has killed seven people in the latest disaster to blight the country’s garment industry.

Firefighters battled through the night to douse the flames at the Aswad Knit Composite factory at Sripur, on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka. Parts of the two-story building were still smoldering early Wednesday.

Police said the fire was so intense that most of the bodies that have been recovered were too badly burned to be ID’d.

Workers said the blaze, which broke out Tuesday evening, appeared to have been started by a malfunctioning knitting machine that had caught fire on a number of previous occasions.

A correspondent at the scene found work order books containing names of the factory’s clients in September, which included U.S. brand Gap, British retailer Next, Swedish fashion label H&M, Australia’s Target and French supermarket Carrefour.

A fabric swatch book marked with Walmart’s George brand logo and labels were also found.

Revising an earlier death toll that put the number of dead at nine, local police Chief Amir Hossain said seven bodies had been recovered after a thorough search of the building. “Two bodies have been identified and handed over to their relatives. Five other bodies were charred beyond recognition,” he said.

Hossain added that the fire was now “under control,” although parts of the building were still smoldering.

A fire at the Tazreen garment factory in Dhaka killed 111 workers last November, in the country’s worst such incident.

Industrial accidents are common in the country, where the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory bloc in April killed 1,129 people in the nation’s worst industrial disaster. Since then, protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions have shaken the sector, the country’s economic mainstay.

Although the names of the victims in the latest fire have yet to be released, relatives who had gathered at the factory in Gazipur district feared the worst.

Fire service director Mahbubur Rahman said the blaze spread because emergency services took more than an hour to reach the site. “There is no fire station within a 30 km radius of the factory,” he said.

Safety standards at Bangladesh’s 4,500 garment factories, where workers toil for 10 to 12 hours a day for a monthly minimum wage of $38, are notoriously lax and fires are a common problem.

Mohammad Abu Saan, who works at the factory in Sripur, said the fire started when a knitting machine burst into flames on the factory floor and then spread to a warehouse. “There have been quite a few small fires in the machine recently. But we managed to douse them. This time it was big,” he said.