DHAKA, Bangladesh — Production at a sportswear factory here where at least 31 apparel workers were killed and 200 seriously injured on Tuesday will resume on Saturday, senior officials of the factory said Wednesday, while the government investigates the cause of the blaze and inspects safety systems.
When the workers came to the 11-story Ha-Meem Group plant Wednesday morning, authorities said it would be closed through Friday. The factory is located in Ashulia, an apparel industry cluster near the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka. In the wake of the blaze, local trade unionists were critical of the plant’s lack of proper maintenance of safety and emergency exits.
Minister for Home Affairs Shahara Khatun said an electrical short circuit may have been the culprit. Fires in Bangladesh garment factories are common due to substandard electrical wiring, killing annually scores of workers who toil 12 to 14 hours a day in poor working conditions for less than $50 a month.
Neither the Ha-Meem authorities nor the Bangladesh government could confirm the total number of deaths.
When the fire broke out in the finishing section of the ninth floor at around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, about 6,000 workers were engaged in production activities, said Ha-Meem’s deputy managing director, Delwar Hossain. 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.
Authorities of a number of garment factories adjacent to the Ha-Meem Group suspended production for the day to speed up rescue activities. The fire service continued working until midnight to douse the flames and rescue the trapped workers from the burning factory.
In 2009, Ha-Meem’s factory was torched by workers over demands for increased wages. Ha-Meem Group is one of the leading export manufacturers, with several factories and about 24,000 employees. It caters to buyers from Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. Ha-Meem’s owner, A.K. Azad, is an influential business figure and president of the Bangladesh Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries. The factory’s customers include Wal-Mart, H&M, Next, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Gap, Wrangler, Squeeze, Sears, Target, Charming Shoppes, Carrefour, Inditex, Miss Etam, Migros and Celio.
The Clean Clothes Campaign, an alliance of garment workers’ safety watchdog organizations in 15 European countries, alleged that Ha-Meem has a “dubious labor-rights track record.” The company is known for “unauthorized subcontracting, meaning the factory may have also been producing for brands which are unaware of their production there,” the group said.