More than 20 factory workers were killed Saturday morning in north Dhaka when a boiler exploded at a plastics factory and caused a fire that took 10 hours to put out, a labor rights official said. It is the latest incident highlighting the precarious nature of manufacturing in Bangladesh, a major garment producing country.
About 50 people were injured in the fire as well, though the number might climb as some of them were being treated for serious burns at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, local news outlets reported.
According to Alonzo Suson, head of Bangladesh’s Solidarity Center – a labor rights organization associated with the AFL-CIO – the factory, Tampaco Foils Ltd, manufactured plastic packaging and is located in the Tongi industrial area.
“It started with an explosion of a boiler, that started the path, and just with the electricity wiring being so bad here in general, it became a big fire,” Suson said. “It took them a while to put it out, over 10 hours.”
He added that because Eid Al Adha, the Muslim holiday, starts on Monday, most of the workers had actually left the city for their home provinces on Friday and Saturday, so Tampaco Foils was not at full capacity.
According to Tampaco Foils website, their clients include the British American Tabacco, Nestlé, and Nabisco.
The Bangladesh garment sector has been undergoing a series of changes after the Rana Plaza tragedy left 1,133 workers dead in its wake. Since then, international brands came together to form the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, while American brands banded together to create the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. The aim of both initiatives is to conduct inspections of exporting garment factories and instate solutions to safety and worker health issues.
Suson said while the initiatives do check electrical wirings during their inspections, the Alliance and Accord only inspect exporting factories that source to international brands, which leaves a gap of roughly 3,000 factories in the sector.
“It gives you a sense of the huge area of work that the labor inspections have to do,” he said, explaining that the government is supposed to inspect the remaining garment factories. “[The government inspection department] are finding difficulty changing things because the owners are not very cooperative.”