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Mourning, Protests in Bangladesh Even as Second Fire Breaks Out

Tuesday has been declared a day of mourning in Bangladesh.

Tuesday has been declared a day of mourning in Bangladesh and the flag will fly at half mast with garment factories remaining closed for the fire that engulfed and killed more than 110 workers outside Dhaka on Saturday night.

There were a series of protests by garment workers in the city on Monday, even as a separate fire broke out in another garment factory in Uttara, a suburb of Dhaka early Monday morning. This was an 11-floor building, from which workers were able to escape without any serious casualties.

“These were two isolated events,” Ehsan Ul Fattah, secretary general of the Bangladesh GarmentManufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) told WWD. Police confirmed that the fire had been extinguished and that there were no deaths in this incident.

Ul Fattah said that three separate inquiries were being held into the incidents, by the BGMEA as well as the home ministry and the ministry for labor. Registering shock at the incident, he said his organization was doing everything possible, including providing compensation to the victims along with the government. He said that compliance issues were being followed in many cases by factories, with quality controls in place by international brands, many of which have their factories in Bangladesh but that “you could not rule out that accidents can happen.”

“However, garment workers across the city are extremely agitated, and they have reason to be,” he said.

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Apprehension about things turning ugly at a protest across the city were rife as thousands of workers blocked a highway, calling for justice as well as an indictment of the owners of the Tazreen Fashion plant north of Dhaka, in which more than 110 workers were killed on Saturday.

More than 1,000 workers were trapped in the fire as well, many of whom jumped to their deaths from the burning building, according to reports from AFP.

A senior police official told WWD that Monday’s protest, which was staged around Ashulia, an area where there are more than 500 garment factories, was being watched closely to avoid the anger from erupting into a more damaging situation.

Garment exports from Bangladesh have been growing in the last few years, crossing the $19 billion mark in 2011. According to consulting firm McKinsey, this number is expected to triple in the next nine years.

However, working conditions at the garment factories have been under criticism as wage laws and low minimum wages as well as poor working conditions have been brought up repeatedly as a cause for concern. As global brands continue to turn to Bangladesh for manufacture, especially as manufacturing costs have gone up in China, the number of textile workers has been growing as has the importance of Bangladesh’s textile industry for global brands.