Bangladesh Factory Fire Kills At Least 9 Renewing Safety Fears

By Arun Devnath | October 9, 2013

A fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of Bangladesh capital Dhaka killed at least nine people, renewing concerns about safety in the country’s $19 billion garment industry that supplies retailers globally.

Three out of five units housed at the Aswad Composite Mills Ltd. in Gazipur were damaged by the fire that broke out yesterday, police inspector Amir Hossain said in a telephone interview from the scene.

The deaths put added pressure on South Asian nation as it struggles to rebuild its image after the April collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex killed more than 1,100 people in the country’s worst industrial disaster. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment exporter and its apparel industry supplies retailers from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to Hennes & Mauritz AB.

“It’s a very sad day,” Abdus Salam Murshedy, president of the Exporters Association of Bangladesh, said by phone. “It will be very difficult to do business with global retailers after all these troubles coming one after another.”

Nafis Sikder, managing director of Aswad Composite, declined to say who his company makes clothes for. Television images showed the top floors of the factory going up in flames. The neighborhood plunged into a blackout as electricity was cut off to garment plants there.

“The fire is under control now,” fire department official Jibon Miah said by phone. “We are still investigating how the fire started.”

Bangladesh’s garment industry expansion has been marred by factories operated in buildings with poor electrical wiring, an insufficient number of exits and little fire-fighting equipment. That has put pressure on international retailers to improve work conditions.

Last month, thousands of garment factory workers staged violent protests, seeking to more than double their monthly pay to $104 and forcing about 400 of the country’s 5,000 garment factories to close

(Editors: Stephanie Wong, Anjali Cordeiro)

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