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Fatal Fire in Bangladesh Highlights the
Dangers Facing Garment Workers
By VIKAS BAJAJ NOV. 25, 2012
MUMBAI, India — More than 100 people died Saturday and Sunday in a fire at a
garment factory outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, in one of the worst industrial tragedies
in that country.
It took firefighters all night to put out the blaze at the factory, Tazreen Fashions,
after it started about 7 p.m. on Saturday, a retired fire official said by telephone from
Dhaka, the capital. At least 111 people were killed, and scores of workers were taken
to hospitals for treatment of burns and smoke inhalation.
“The main difficulty was to put out the fire; the sufficient approach road was not
there,” said the retired official, Salim Nawaj Bhuiyan, who now runs a fire safety
company in Dhaka. “The fire service had to take great trouble to approach the
Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second-largest exporter of clothing after
China, has a notoriously poor fire safety record. Since 2006, more than 500
Bangladeshi workers have died in factory fires, according to Clean Clothes
Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group in Amsterdam. Experts say many of
the fires could have easily been avoided if the factories had taken the right
precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods and have too few fire
escapes, and they widely flout safety measures. The industry employs more than
three million workers in Bangladesh, most of them women.
Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and
those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in
Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.
“These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work
with are death traps,” Ineke Zeldenrust, the international coordinator for the Clean
Clothes Campaign, said in a statement. “Their failure to take action amounts to
In a statement from the United States, Wal-Mart said, “While we are trying to
determine if the factory has a current relationship with Walmart or one of our
suppliers, fire safety is a critically important area of Walmart’s factory audit
program and we have been working across the apparel industry to improve fire
safety education and training in Bangladesh.”
The fire at the Tazreen factory in Savar, northwest of Dhaka, started in a
warehouse on the ground floor that was used to store yarn, and quickly spread to the
upper floors. The building was nine stories high, with the top three floors under
construction, according to a garment industry official at the scene who asked not to
be named because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. Though most
workers had left for the day when the fire started, the industry official said, as many
as 600 workers were still inside working overtime.
The factory, which opened in May 2010, employed about 1,500 workers and had
sales of $35 million a year, according to a document on the company’s Web site. It
made T-shirts, polo shirts and fleece jackets.
Most of the workers who died were on the first and second floors, fire officials
said, and were killed because there were not enough exits. “So the workers could not
come out when the fire engulfed the building,” said Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, the
operations director for the Fire Department, according to The Associated Press.
In a telephone interview later on Sunday, Major Mahbub said the fire could
have been caused by an electrical fault or by a spark from a cigarette.
In a brief phone call, Delowar Hossain, the managing director of the Tuba
Group, the parent company of Tazreen Fashions, said he was too busy to comment.
“Pray for me,” he said and then hung up.
Television news reports showed badly burned bodies lined up on the floor in
what appeared to be a government building. The injured were being treated in
hallways of local hospitals, according to the reports.
The industry official said that many of the bodies were burned beyond
recognition and that it would take some time to identify them.
One survivor, Mohammad Raju, 22, who worked on the fifth floor, said he
escaped by climbing out of a third-floor window onto the bamboo scaffolding that
was being used by construction workers. He said he lost his mother, who also
worked on the fifth floor, when they were making their way down.
“It was crowded on the stairs as all the workers were trying to come out from
the factory,” Mr. Raju said. “There was no power supply; it was dark, and I lost my
mother in dark. I tried to search for her for 10 to 15 minutes but did not find her.”
A document posted on Tazreen Fashions’ Web site indicated that an “ethical
sourcing” official for Walmart had flagged “violations and/or conditions which were
deemed to be high risk” at the factory in May 2011, though it did not specify the
nature of the infractions. The notice said that the factory had been given an “orange”
grade and that any factories given three such assessments in two years from their
last audit would not receive any Walmart orders for a year.
A spokesman for Walmart, Kevin Gardner, said the company was “so far unable
to confirm that Tazreen is a supplier to Walmart nor if the document referenced in
the article is in fact from Walmart.”
But the International Labor Rights Forum, which tracks fires in the Bangladesh
garment industry, said documents and logos found in the debris indicated that the
factory produced clothes for Walmart’s Faded Glory line as well as for other
American and foreign companies.
Bangladesh exports about $18 billion worth of garments a year. Employees in
the country’s factories are among the world’s lowest-paid, with entry-level workers
making the government-mandated minimum wage of about $37 a month or slightly
Tensions have been running high between workers, who have been demanding
an increase in minimum wages, and the factory owners and government. A union
organizer, Aminul Islam, who campaigned for better working conditions and higher
wages, was found tortured and killed outside Dhaka this year.
Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Stephanie
Clifford and Steven Greenhouse from New York.
A version of this article appears in print on November 26, 2012, on Page A4 of the New York edition with
the headline: Fatal Fire in Bangladesh Highlights the Dangers Facing Garment Workers.
© 2017 The New York Times Company
PERSON 4 …
Bangladesh marks day of mourning for factory ﬁre dead
27 November 2012
Bangladesh is observing a day of mourning for the more than 100 victims of a clothing
factory ﬁre on Saturday.
Flags ﬂew at half mast on government buildings and on garment factories and the three
million workers in the industry were given a day’s holiday.
A burial is being held for those bodies too badly burnt to be identiﬁed.
Meanwhile, police continued to hunt for the owner of the factory who they want to question
about alleged violations of building regulations.
The nine-storey Tazreen Fashions factory in the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, only had
building permission for three ﬂoors.
Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman said police had opened a murder investigation after
reports that managers told workers to return to their machines as the alarms rang and the
The Interior Minister, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, said a preliminary inquiry suggested the ﬁre
was the result of an arson attack on the building. The government has initiated two inquiries
into the blaze.
He said those responsible would be arrested: “We are determined that these saboteurs are
brought to book.
“At the same time we would like to assure everyone here and abroad that our production
process will continue with no limitations. No obstacles will be allowed to stand in its way.”
Earlier, US retailer Walmart said it was troubled that a supplier subcontracted work without
authorisation to the Tazreen factory.
Walmart said it was cutting ties with the supplier without naming the ﬁrm.
“The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across
the apparel industry to improve ﬁre safety education and training in Bangladesh,” the ﬁrm said
in a statement.
Labels of clothes from the European chain C&A, Hong Kong’s Li & Fung and the US rapper
and actor Sean “Diddy” Combs were also found in the factory.
Witnesses said the Tazreen factory lacked emergency exits. Twelve people leapt to their
deaths from windows as they tried to escape.
“This disastrous ﬁre incident was a result of continuing neglect of workers’ safety and their
welfare,” Amirul Haque Amin, the president of Bangladesh’s National Garment Workers
Federation, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
“Whenever a ﬁre or accident occurs, the government sets up an investigation and the
authorities – including factory owners – pay out some money and hold out assurances to
improve safety standards and working conditions. But they never do it.”
For a second day, garment workers staged protests in Dhaka and in the Ashulia industrial
district where the Tazreen and many other clothes factories are located.
Fatal ﬁres are common in Bangladesh’s large garment manufacturing sector. Eight people
were injured in a blaze in another garment factory on Monday.
Lax safety standards, poor wiring and overcrowding are blamed for causing several deadly
factory ﬁres every year.
Bangladesh relies overwhelmingly on the export of clothes. The country earns about $20
billion a year from the industry, 80% of its total exports.
The US is its chief customer, buying almost a quarter of the total value of clothes.
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More on this story
In pictures: Deadly factory ﬁre
25 November 2012
Dhaka: City of construction death traps
4 June 2010
Bangladesh country proﬁle
2 March 2017
Related Internet links
Walmart Global Responsibility
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