Bangladesh factory fire kills 9, underscores safety issues

Fire again calls attention to need for better safety standards in booming garment industry

At least nine people died in a fire Tuesday at a garment factory in the Bangladeshi town of Gazipur, about 25 miles north of the capital city of Dhaka, emergency officials said. The fire reestablished the need for enhanced safety standards in a sector that witnessed the world's deadliest industry accident since the 1980s, killing more than 1,100 people in April.

The recent series of factory accidents in Bangladesh has put the government, industrialists and the global brands that use the factories under severe pressure to reform an industry that employs four million people and generates 80 percent of the country's export earnings.

About 50 workers were injured in the latest fire, whose cause has yet to be determined. Gazipur's firefighting chief, Abu Zafar Ahmed, said the blaze originated in the knitting section of Aswad Composite Mills factory, a sister concern of Paul Mall Group.

Among those killed were three managers, Ahmed said, including the general manager, Rashiduzzaman Mandal. Factory director Emdad Hossain said 170 workers were inside the factory when the fire started, and most were able to escape.

The fire was doused early Wednesday, after firefighters labored for 10 hours to bring it under control. Local police chief Amir Hossain said most of the victims had been so badly burned that they could not be identified.

A series of deadly incidents at Bangladeshi factories, including a building collapse in April that killed more than 1,100 people, has raised global concern over shaky safety standards in the South Asian country's booming $20 billion garment industry.

The collapse of the building near Dhaka was the world's deadliest industrial accident since the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India.

The garment sector is a vital industry for Bangladesh, and the country’s low wages and duty-free access to Western markets have helped make it the world's second-largest apparel exporter after China.

A number of companies have signed an international agreement, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which would combat poor working conditions in Bangladesh garment factories. The signatories include a total of 86 companies from 20 countries, including Fast Retailing, Asia's largest retailer, and U.S.-based companies Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, PV, Scoop NYC/Zac Posen and Sean Jean Apparel.

But several large American brands have refused to sign the pact. They include Walmart, Target and Gap, who have opted instead for a different agreement, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which critics say lacks the impact of the Accord pact since legal consequences of non-compliance can be avoided.

Neither agreement discusses safety regulations in countries other than Bangladesh. 

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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