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Bangladesh garment factory blaze kills seven

Death toll could rise in latest Dhaka disaster

Bangladesh garment factory blaze kills seven

A fireman attempts to douse flames at the Aswad Knit Composite factory (Shahadat Hosen) reporter, Dhaka

October 9, 2013

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At least seven garment workers were killed and dozens injured in a factory fire at Gazipur district near Dhaka on Tuesday, the latest disaster to hit Bangladesh’s garment industry.

The fire at the two-story Aswad Knit Composite factory broke out at around 6pm yesterday and continued overnight, engulfing a warehouse and two adjacent buildings.

“The fire is under control now and we have recovered seven bodies so far,” said fire official Abu Jafar Ahmed. He feared that death toll may rise further.

Gazipur police superintendent Abdul Baten said five bodies have been identified. He confirmed a death toll of seven as of Wednesday afternoon, although other reports claim 10 have died. “Two bodies are yet to be identified as they were charred beyond recognition,” he said. 

The Gazipur district administration has formed a committee to investigate the incident.

Factory officials said the fire originated in the knitting section on the first floor of the factory. A machine reportedly exploded after gathering excessive heat and set fire to piles of thread and fabrics.

“When the fire broke out the fire alarm rang and about 50 workers on duty hurried to get down there,” said Emadul Haque, the factory director. “The workers who died were trapped inside because the fire spread so quickly all over the building.” He also announced 30,000 taka (US$375) for each victim's family as immediate compensation.

Bangladesh’s US$20 billion garment industry is the second largest in the world after China, and accounts for 80 percent of the country’s annual export income.

However, the industry of four million, mostly female, workers has a notoriously poor safety record. More than 2,000 workers have been killed in factory fires and collapses in the past decade.

The latest accident comes some five months after the April 24 collapse of Rana Plaza and less than one year after the Tazreen Fashions fire last November, which together killed more than 1,300 workers. The two incidents prompted a global outcry over poor labor practices and working conditions in Bangladesh garment factories.

The tragedies prompted the US government to suspend Bangladesh’s preferential trade status in June this year. The European Union, Bangladesh’s single largest garment export market, also threatened to revoke duty free access if the industry fails to standardize working conditions.

Dhaka-based labor leader Babul Akhter, who visited the site of Tuesday's fire, said: “The deaths of so many co-workers in recent times have left us speechless. The latest tragedy shows that garment owners don’t pay heed to our cries for safety, and most tragically they have learnt nothing from massive disasters like the Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen fire.”

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