Seven apparel industry workers were killed and more than 15 injured when a fire swept through the Smart Export Garment Ltd. factory in Mohammadpur in the western part of Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Saturday. All of those killed were women and four were teenagers, according to police officials.
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights said the workers were crushed to death as they raced to escape the flames at the factory, which is housed on the second floor of a two-story building.
Mahbubur Rahman, director of Fire Service and Civil Defence headquarters, said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
Officials of Smart Export Garment could not be reached for comment. However, press reports here said the factory was not licensed.
International organizations quickly spoke out against the latest tragedy and called for a change of working conditions in the apparel industry in Bangladesh. “After more than two decades of the apparel industry knowing about the risks to these workers, nothing substantial has changed,” Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, said in a statement issued along with The Worker Rights Consortium and the Clean Clothes Campaign.
Staff from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights organization were able to enter the Smart factory right after the fire and found the following labels: Bershka and Lefties, owned by Inditex Group, the Sol’s label owned by Paris-based Solo Invest, and the Fox & Scott label registered to Sylvain Scemama in Paris.
“It is long overdue that Europe’s major garment labels stand up to guarantee that Bangladesh’s nearly four million garment workers finally have the right to organize an independent union and to bargain collectively,” the Institute said.
This tragedy follows on the heels of the Tazreen factory fire in November that claimed the lives of 111 workers in Bangladesh. Last week, apparel industry workers in Dhaka demonstrated against Wal-Mart Stores Inc., criticizing the retailer for not doing enough to protect their rights. Wal-Mart revealed a zero-tolerance policy to subcontracting on Tuesday that is scheduled to go into effect on March 1.