Mob fury as Bangladesh blaze death toll reaches 112
on 26/11/2012 08:47:17
The flames roared up the eight floors of the factory, which had no emergency exits, quickly trapping workers, some of whom leapt from the building where they made clothes for major world retailers.
The factory, outside the capital Dhaka, is owned by Tazreen Fashions, a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which makes products for Wal-Mart and other companies in the US and Europe.
Protesters blocked the streets of a Dhaka suburb today in a protest that turned violent at times.
Angry workers threw stones at factories, smashed vehicles and blocked a major highway in the area.
About 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted in Savar, the industrial zone where the deadly fire occurred.
Firefighters pulled out at least 100 bodies and 12 more people died at hospitals after jumping from the building.
Unions in Bangladesh have long complained about unsafe factories where workers work in dismal sweatshop conditions.
Firefighters recovered at least 100 bodies from the factory and 12 more people died in hospital after jumping from the building to escape, Maj Mohammad Mahbub, the fire brigade operations director, said.
"Had there been at least one emergency exit through outside the factory, the casualties would have been much lower," he said.
Local media reported that up to 124 people were killed. The cause of the blaze that began on Saturday night was not immediately clear and authorities ordered an investigation.
Soldiers and border guards were helping keep order as thousands of onlookers and anxious relatives of the factory workers gathered.
Relatives of the workers frantically looked for their loved ones. Sabina Yasmine said she saw the body of her daughter-in-law, but had seen no trace of her son, who also worked there.
"Oh, Allah, where's my soul? Where's my son?" wailed Ms Yasmine, who works at another factory in the area. "I want the factory owner to be hanged. For him, many have died, many have gone."
Tazreen was given a "high risk" safety rating after a May 16, 2011 audit conducted by an "ethical sourcing" assessor for Wal-Mart, according to a document posted on the Tuba Group's website. It did not specify what led to the rating.
Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said online documents indicating an orange or "high risk" assessment after the May inspection and a yellow or "medium risk" report after an inspection in August 2011 appeared to pertain to the factory. The August 2011 letter said Wal-Mart would conduct another inspection within a year.
Mr Gardner said it was not clear if that inspection had been conducted or whether the factory was still making products for Wal-Mart.
If a factory is rated "orange" three times in two years, Wal-Mart will not place any orders for one year. The May 2011 report was the first orange rating for the factory.
Neither Tazreen's owner nor Tuba Group officials could be reached for comment.
The Tuba Group is a major Bangladeshi garment exporter whose clients also include Carrefour and Ikea, according to its website. Its factories export garments to the US, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, among other countries.
The Tazreen factory, which opened in 2009 and employed about 1,700 people, made polo shirts, fleece jackets and T-shirts.
Bangladesh has some 4,000 clothes factories, many without proper safety measures. The country earns about £12.5 billion a year from exports of garment products.
In its 2012 Global Responsibility report, Wal-Mart said "fire safety continues to be a key focus for brands and retailers sourcing from Bangladesh".
The company said it stopped working with 49 factories in Bangladesh in 2011 because of fire safety issues and was working with its supplier factories to phase out production from buildings deemed high risk.
Maj Mahbub said the fire broke out on the ground floor, which was used as a warehouse, and spread quickly to the upper floors. Many workers who retreated to the roof were rescued, he said. But he said that with no emergency exits leading outside the building, many victims were trapped, and firefighters recovered 69 bodies from the second floor alone.
"The factory had three staircases, and all of them were down through the ground floor," he said. "So the workers could not come out when the fire engulfed the building."
Many victims were burned beyond recognition. The bodies were laid out in rows at a school nearby. Many of them were handed over to families; unclaimed victims were taken to Dhaka Medical College for identification.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock at the loss of so many lives.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would stand by the victims' families.