At least three people have died and 40 are injured after a huge fire erupted at a shoe factory outside the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Wednesday.
Six firefighting units rushed to Uniworld Footwear in the Ashulia industrial district at roughly 5 p.m. local time, where firefighters recovered three charred bodies “on the spot,” Shahjahan Sikder, deputy assistant director of media at Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence, told United News Bangladesh. Another four units helped extinguish the flames.
Two of the deceased were women, while the identity of the third could not be immediately ascertained because of the extent of the burns, Sikder said. Those who were injured were transported to the hospital.
The deadly conflagration, whose cause has not yet been determined, raises new questions about fashion factory safety in Bangladesh ahead of the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, which killed 1,134 garment workers and maimed or injured thousands more, in April 2013.
While the disaster led to the creation of the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building and Safety in Bangladesh, now known as the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, the agreement currently covers clothing and textile manufacturers, not footwear. Neither is Uniworld Footwear a member of the Ready-made Garments Sustainability Council (RSC), a tripartite group of factory owners, multinational brands and labor unions that oversees safety audits in the South Asian country, a spokesperson told Sourcing Journal.
According to shipping data from Panjiva, Uniworld Footwear dispatched products to Fashion Footwear, a New York-based company whose brands include Danskin, Gloria Vanderbilt, Pony and Wanted, as recently as November. Neither Uniworld Footwear nor Fashion Footwear immediately responded to emails requesting comment.
“This tragic lost of lives once again underscores the need to have sectorial and binding agreement on safely for workers in the sector,” Christina Hajagos-Clausen, director of textiles and the garment industry at IndustriALL Global Union, a signatory of the Accord and a member of the RSC told Sourcing Journal. “The International Accord, which covers ready-made garments, is a proven agreement to do this, but without a global binding agreement covering all product categories, factories and brands, workers in the textile, garment, leather and shoe sector continue to put their lives at risk. IndustriALL Global Union demands that workers need safe factories.”
Christie Miedema, campaign and outreach coordinator, with the Clean Clothes Campaign, concurred.
“We are dismayed to see such loss of life and so many workers injured. This shows that in many factories workers’ lives continue to be disregarded, with horrific consequences,” she told Sourcing Journal. ”It would be a logical next step to ensure that footwear factories undergo the same transparent monitoring processes as Accord-covered garment and textile factories, and that there are real penalties if factories and brands do not comply. Footwear brands must take this as a wake-up call and move to bring their factories under the Accord.”
The fire follows a similar incident at a Brazilian factory owned by footwear purveyor Alpargatas on Monday, though no casualties were reported.