DHAKA: A fire broke out in a multi-storey garment factory building outside Dhaka on Monday, one day after more than 100 people were killed in a blaze that swept through another factory on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital.
A fire brigade official said the blaze in the 11-storey building in the suburb of Uttara, which housed three separate factories, was almost under control. There were no reports of deaths, but eight workers were injured due to heavy smoke, fire brigade Director General Abu Nayeem Mohammad Shahidullah told the reporter.
Sunday’s blaze, in which 120 people died, was Bangladesh’s worst-ever factory blaze. Working conditions at Bangladeshi factories are notoriously poor, with little enforcement of safety laws, and overcrowding and locked fire doors are common. Bangladesh has around 4,500 garment factories and is the world’s biggest exporter of clothing after China, with garments making up 80 per cent of its $24 billion annual exports.
More than 300 factories near the capital shut for almost a week earlier this year as workers demanded higher wages and better working conditions.
Garment workers staged mass protests on Monday to demand the end of “deathtrap” labour conditions after the country’s worst-ever textile factory fire.
Survivors of Saturday night’s fire joined several thousand colleagues blocking a highway during a march in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia, outside the capital Dhaka, with some protesters throwing stones at one factory.
Bangladesh’s chief inspector of factories Habibul Islam told the media that the nine-storey Tazreen factory where the blaze broke out, which was built in 2009, had permission for only three storeys.
“They expanded the building without our approval,” he said.
Ashulia’s more than 500 factories, which make apparel for top global retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Tesco, declared a “holiday,” fearing that the protests could worsen and turn into large-scale unrest.
“Most workers are in shock. They want to see safety improvements to these deathtrap factories,” Babul Akter, head of a garment union, told the reporter.
The protesters chanted slogans, including a demand for Tazreen’s bosses to be brought to justice.
Local police chief Badrul Alam said officers had opened a murder investigation as a result of criminal negligence.
Two government inquiries and the police investigation are trying to establish if the owners were to blame for the fire, though the cause has not yet been determined.
“We won’t spare anyone,” Alam promised as the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a day of mourning for the dead on Tuesday, when all factories will also be closed.
Dozens of workplace fires have now killed more than 600 employees in Bangladesh’s booming garment industry since 2006, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, a Amsterdam-based textile rights group.
But none of the owners have so far faced prosecution for poor safety conditions.
Firefighters battled for several hours to contain the blaze, which broke out on the ground floor of the Tazreen Fashion plant 30 kilometres north of Dhaka, trapping over 1,000 workers.
Witnesses told how desperate workers, most of them women, cried for help and several leaped to their deaths from upper floors as they tried to escape.
A mass burial of the bodies of 58 workers was postponed until Tuesday after request from their relatives who want more time for identification.