Working conditions in Asian apparel factories are again stirring controversy after a deadly fire at a plant in Ashulia, Bangladesh, killed more than 115 people.
The International Labor Rights Forum, which for several years has been tracking and responding to factory fires in Bangladesh’s garment industry, issued a statement Sunday calling the fire at the Tazreen Fashions plant on Saturday night the deadliest factory fire in the history of the apparel industry in Bangladesh. It is the second tragedy to hit the region’s apparel industry in the last three months. In September, a fire at an apparel plant in Karachi, Pakistan, killed more than 300 people.
“We hope the tragic fire at Tazreen will serve as an urgent call to action for all major brands that rely on Bangladesh’s low wages to make a profit,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of ILRF. “Their voluntary and confidential monitoring programs have failed. Now it is time to come together and make a contractual commitment to workers and to involve workers and their organizations in the solution.”
The ILRF claimed that researchers found evidence that Tazreen produced Wal-Mart’s Faded Glory brand, in addition to finding logos, clothing and documents from Ace, C&A, Dickies, Fashion Basics, Sean Combs Co.’s Enyce brand, Edinburgh Woollen Mill’s brands (P.G. Field and Country Rose), Hippo, Infinity Woman, Karl Rieker, GMBH & Co., Kebo Raw, KiK, Piaza Italia, Soffe and True Desire.
As the fire began, about 2,000 workers, mostly women, were trapped on the first floor of the factory, which was crammed with fabrics, yarn and cotton that quickly accelerated the raging blaze. Firefighters fought to contain the inferno as workers jumped from the multistory building to their deaths. The death toll could rise because officials said firefighters could not access some floors of the building. More than 200 people were said to have been injured.
Bangladesh has around 4,500 garment factories that make men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, as well as sleepwear, underwear, daywear and robes, for retailers including Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Tesco, J.C. Penney, H&M, and Marks & Spencer. The apparel sector generated $19 billion in 2012 as of June.
Wal-Mart issued a statement: “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims of this tragedy. While we are trying to determine if the factory has a current relationship with Wal-Mart or one of our suppliers, fire safety is a critically important area of Wal-Mart’s factory audit program and we have been working across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh. As part of this effort, we partnered with several independent organizations to develop and roll out fire safety training tools for factory management and workers. Continued engagement is critical to ensure that reliable, proactive measures are in place to reduce the chance of factory fires. ”
H&M, which considers Bangladesh an “important buying market,” said on Sunday that it does not work with the Tazreen Fashions garment factory. The Swedish retailer has been actively working to improve factory conditions in the region. The retailer published a Bangladesh Development Plan, which is on its corporate Web site. “H&M wants to contribute to lasting improvements for people working in the clothing industry in Bangladesh,” the plan said. “Now efforts are being stepped up, with the goal of supporting social development in the long term.” Among the issues H&M has broached are fire safety, skills development and health care.
The retailer said: “Today H&M’s thoughts go to the ones affected by the devastating fire yesterday at a garment factory in Bangladesh. The tragic accident happened at a factory that does not produce for H&M.
“H&M plays an active role in improving fire safety in Bangladeshi garment factories. We are deeply sorry about the disastrous incident at Tazreen Fashions.”
The state-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha recently reported that some 6,000 people die every year in fires in Bangladesh. In December 2010, another factory in Ashulia, an apparel industry cluster near the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka, burned to the ground, claiming the lives of at least 31 apparel workers and seriously injuring 200.
In the wake of the 2010 blaze, local trade unionists were critical of the plant’s lack of proper maintenance of safety and emergency exits. Firemen rushed to the site but could not enter the fifth floor of the building due to excessive heat, forcing the authorities to summon army personnel who tried to rescue the trapped workers, mostly females, with their helicopters. Many were seen jumping from the building to escape the fire.
At the time, Shahara Khatun, Bangladesh’s minister for home affairs, said an electrical short circuit may have been the culprit. Fires in Bangladesh garment factories are common due to substandard electrical wiring, annually killing scores of workers who toil 12 to 14 hours a day in poor working conditions for less than $50 a month.
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye
Did you know: @carlychaikin of "Mr. Robot" has been painting for about a decade? The actress, who plays Darlene on the show, is a self-taught artist who lists Salvador Dalí and Chuck Close as some of her idols. Chaikin told WWD that painting is a form of meditation for her — A much-needed one given the intensity of "Mr. Robot." See a piece Chaikin is working on at WWD.com (📷: @jilliansollazzo) #wwdeye