Photo by Munir Uz Zaman for Getty Images
A fire Tuesday night at a garment factory outside Bangladesh’s capital has killed at least 10 people, according to local officials. Fire chief Abu Zafar Ahmed told the Associated Press that 10 bodies were found inside the Aswad Composite Mills factory in Gazipur, 25 miles from Dhaka. He said that about 50 other people were injured while fleeing the blaze, which originated in the facility’s knitting section but whose cause has yet to be determined. Another fire official said the fire spread to two adjacent buildings that also housed garment factories under the Palmal Group but could not immediately say if anyone was still trapped inside.
Iqbal Ahmed, a journalist, said the fire occurred when the factory was closed for the day. Those employees still inside were working overtime.
The Aswad fire is only the latest in a string of deadly incidents to plague Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry.
The Aswad fire is only the latest in a string of deadly incidents to plague Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry, which employs four million workers and generates 80 percent of the South Asian nation’s export earnings.
Western brands and retailers that source their products from Bangladesh are still feeling the aftershocks of April’s building collapse in Savar, where 1,127 garment workers lost their lives in the world’s deadliest industrial accident since the 1984 Bhopal gas leak in India.
In November 2012, a fire tore through the Tazreen Fashions facility on the outskirts of Dhaka, killing 112.
Corrective measures have been slow to stick and often ineffectual. Low wages, duty-free access to American and European markets, and lax compliance with building and safety standards have helped make the country the world’s second-leading apparel exporter after China.
If these disasters were meant to serve as wakeup calls to the clothing industry, someone’s still sleeping on the job.
Update: Oct. 9, 2013
The deputy manager of the factory told ITV News on Wednesday that six Western high-street brands used Aswad Composite Mills: Next, Primark, George (owned by Walmart), Gap, H&M, and Morrisons.
H&M has confirmed that material made onsite was used in its clothes, but a spokesman said the company didn’t deal directly with the factory. “We don’t have a direct business relationship with the affected factory,” the Swedish retailer says in a statement. Primark says it placed its last order with Aswad in March before canceling its contract over “safety concerns.” A “small amount” of outstanding orders was stored in the facility’s warehouse, awaiting shipment, a spokesman adds.