A crowd gathers as smoke rises from a garment factory at Ashulia, Bangladesh, on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010. A devastating blaze raced through the factory, killing at least 25 people and injuring more than 100, witnesses and news reports said. (Photo: Pavel Rahman / AP via Washington Times)
14/12/2010 - Five days after the start of a massive strike in Bangladesh's garment industry which turned already very violent on Sunday (with four dead workers) and two days before the national "Victory Day" (celebrating the end of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War), a mysterious fire has today broken out in one Bangladeshi clothes factory at Ashulia, a suburban area about 16 miles north of the capital of Dhaka, and there are contradictory reports that dozens of workers have been killed and hundred injured.
According to the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) four garment workers were killed and over 200 were injured on 12 December in violent clashes between the workers of apparel factories and members of "law enforcement agencies" (that is to say: bought thugs), when the police opened fire on the protesting workers.
In a letter signed by it's General Secretary Sharan Burrow (photo below), the ITUC has today protested with a fax to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (photo below) and urged an independent investigation into these killings ensuring "that those responsible are held to account".
Bangladesh has about 4,000 garment factories that export more than $10 billion worth of products a year, mainly to the United States and Europe. Customers include Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, JCPenney, Marks & Spencer, Kohl's, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger.
(article by Julfikar Ali Manik, Dhaka, and Vikas Bajaj, Mumbai, India, published December 14, 2010) :
"Bangladesh Factory Fire Kills at Least 20
A fire at a garment factory north of Dhaka, the capital, killed at least 20 people and injured dozens on Tuesday, in the latest blow to the country’s largest industry.
The fire at a 10-story factory in the Ashulia industrial area, about 16 miles from the capital, started on the ninth floor around lunchtime, when most of the workers were outside. Local reporters who had canvassed hospitals said at least 24 people had been killed. Factory officials said they knew of about 20 deaths.
About 5,000 people worked in the building, producing pants for customers in the United States and Europe, said Delwar Hussain, a deputy managing director at the Ha-Meem Group, which owns the factory. Fire officials were still fighting the fire, which spread to the top floor, into the evening as people gathered at the compound to look for relatives.
It was not immediately clear which Western retailers were supplied by the factory. Garment factories employ about three million Bangladeshis, most of them women, to make clothes for stores like Wal-Mart and H & M.
Just days ago, three people were killed in labor protests. Workers have said they were protesting because some factories had not carried out a government-mandated 80 percent increase in the minimum wage, to 3,000 taka a month or about $43.
It was unclear what had caused the fire at the Ha-Meem factory and whether it was related to the labor unrest. Mr. Hussain said that the company suspected an electrical short circuit, but that investigators from the government and the garment industry association were still working to establish the cause.
Piles of clothes in garment factories are easily combustible. Fires can be very deadly because some factory owners lock exits to prevent workers from leaving their machines. Mr. Hussain said the doors at the company’s factory had not been locked.
International labor groups have criticized the safety of Bangladesh's garment factories. A factory fire outside Dhaka in February killed more than 20 people.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would pay the families of workers killed in the Ha-Meem fire 100,000 taka (about $1,400), and the company has promised to pay another 100,000 taka.
Mr. Hussain said the company hoped to reopen the first eight floors of the factory as early as Tuesday because they did not appear to be damaged. He said the company expected to meet all pending orders. The ninth floor was used as a finishing area where workers prepared shipments, and the 10th floor housed a dining hall, he said. "
HA-MIM FIRE - 'It 's an act of sabotage' (bdnews24.com, Bangladesh)
Bangladesh police shoot striking garment workers (World Socialist Web Site)
27 killed, 100 injured in Bangladeshi factory blaze (AP via Washington Times)
Bangladesh clothes workers die in factory fire (BBC)
Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, speaking at Labour Day 2007 in Queensland, Australia (Photo: Wikipedia)
Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 17/10/2000 (DoD photo by R. D. Ward)