DHAKA, May 9 – A fire at a garment factory killed at least eight people Thursday in the latest disaster to hit Bangladesh’s textile industry, still reeling from the death of more than 920 people in a building collapse.
The cause of the fire was not known but authorities said it broke out during the night on the third floor of an 11-storey building housing two garment factories in Dhaka’s Darussalam district.
The owner of the Tung Hai sweater factory was among the victims, but there were no workers among the casualties as there was no overnight production, police and fire service officials said.
“It was a big fire but we managed to confine it on one floor,” Mahbubur Rahman, operations director of the nation’s fire service, told AFP.
He said the victims suffocated after rushing into a stairwell and becoming overwhelmed by “toxic smoke from burnt acrylic clothing”.
Local police chief Khalilur Rahman told AFP the fire killed eight people including the owner, his four staff, a senior police officer, a low-level police official and an eighth person not yet identified.
Rahman said there were no workers in the factory when the blaze broke out some time after 11.30pm. “Only the owner, his staff and his friends were there on an upper floor,” he said.
Tung Hai said on its Facebook page that British low-cost chain Primark was among its customers along with Spain’s Inditex, the parent group of the Zara brand.
The fire comes as more bodies were found in the ruins of the nine-storey Rana Plaza garment factory complex that caved in on April 24 when more than 3,000 workers were on shift.
Over 100 more bodies were recovered overnight, bringing the confirmed death toll to 921, according to the army.
Brigadier General Siddiqul Alam Sikder, who is overseeing the recovery operation, told AFP he hoped to wrap up work on Friday and then leave commercial bulldozers to shift the remaining rubble.
“We’ve only still got to search the basement,” said Sikder. “Most of the bodies are now like skeletons as they are so badly decomposed.”
Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest apparel maker and the $20 billion industry accounted for up to 80 percent of annual exports last year.
But it has a shocking safety record and Western retailers have been threatening to pull out unless authorities come up with a credible programme to raise standards. Disney has already done so.
The government Wednesday announced the closure of 18 garment plants, days after it promised to give “the highest consideration” to safety after talks with the International Labour Organisation.
Fire is a common problem in the 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh, with many operations based in badly constructed buildings with sub-standard wiring.
In November at least 111 people died after a fire engulfed the Tazreen Fashion factory outside Dhaka, the worst blaze in the history of the country’s garment industry.
Around 700 people have been killed in garment factory fires in the country since 2006, according to the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign group.
Western retailers have criticised the factories for not ensuring worker safety, but major brands continue to place orders and critics say they turn a blind eye to the endemic problems.
Two senior US officials spoke Wednesday with American companies that buy garments from Bangladesh and encouraged them to relay concerns about factory conditions with the Dhaka government.
“Both the United States and Bangladesh have a shared interest in ensuring that the growth of Bangladesh’s export sector does not come at the expense of safe and healthy working conditions or fundamental labor rights,” said a statement from the State Department.