Arson Suspected at Bangladesh Plant

Fire hits major apparel factory.

A fire in one of the largest garment factories outside Dhaka is now suspected to be arson and has set the garment industry into a fresh round of soul searching.

No one was injured in the fire, according to the police.

The fire started just before midnight Thursday at the Standard Group of Companies as late night workers completed their shift, and were caught in  confusion between workers and nonworkers, a police official told WWD.

Two separate factory buildings of the group were set ablaze along with garment laden trucks.

The company is considered one of the bigger manufacturers in Bangladesh and produces for companies in the US, Canada and Europe including Wal-Mart, Gap, Marks & Spencer, and Uniqlo, according to officials of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BGMEA) who claimed the factory is compliant with worker safety standards. It employ more than 15,000 workers.

Firefighters from several surrounding areas battled the flames till early Friday evening and industry officials said that it was likely to put thousands of people out of work when they return to the factory Saturday.
The fire is being blamed on angry workers, who have been protesting for weeks for higher wages.

“It is apparent that the damage was intentional,” said a police official who  asked not to be named.

Last week, a government appointed wage board agreed to raise the minimum wage from 3,000 taka or $38 a month to 5,300 taka or $68 per month. Workers have been agitating for a minimum wage of $8,100 taka or $104 per month.
However, industry watchers don’t rule out political violence as a possible cause of the fire. The opposition 18 party coalition led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had called for a 71 hour blockade, to finish early Friday morning. Separately from the fire incident, more than 14 people have been killed in the political blockade, police officials told WWD. The opposition has called for more rallies to protest the election decision.