Yet another fire engulfed a garment factory in Bangladesh, reigniting debates about the beleaguered country’s safety conditions. It has only been two months since the collapse of the Rana Plaza, the worst accident in the garment industry’s history, which claimed more than 1,100 lives.
The inferno erupted in the early morning July 11th, in the Ashulia industrial district, on the northern perimeter of Dhaka. According to eyewitnesses, the fire started on the ground floor of the building, occupied by Arva Textile Limited. Plumes of black smoke billowed from windows shattered from the extreme heat while workers frantically fled to safety. Factory owner Mohammed Obaidullah said workers were able to escape down two separate stairways that, fortunately, did not run through the storage area ravaged by the conflagration.
Abdul Hamid, a senior fire official, said it was still unclear what had caused the fire. However, it has been determined that it began on the ground floor of the six-story building in a room primarily used for the storage of fabric. “The fire did not spread to other floors of the building as it was a locked warehouse,” said Officer Hamid.
An inspection of the site following the blaze found clothing labels for Dickies, the brand produced by Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company. After calls for comment, a representative from Williamson-Dickie issued an emailed statement claiming that its European affiliate had concluded its contract with Arva last February and no longer produced any of its famous workwear in the Bangladeshi factory. The statement also claimed that the company “maintains a strict Code of Conduct and social compliance program to which all business affiliates must adhere–including global Williamson-Dickie offices, distributors, contractors, sourcing offices and licensees.”
Already, there is contentious dispute regarding the factory’s compliance with existing building codes. Some have alleged that the there was inadequate fire fighting equipment, particularly a lack of fire extinguishers. Officer Hamid said that, at the very least, the building had all the proper permits.
However, recent inspections of the factory had discovered some serious safety shortcomings, including a lack of water resources on-site in the event of a fire. Firefighters on the scene had no choice but to use water from a more remote source, causing costly delays.
According to Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed Khan, despite these serious code violations, the building was still granted conditional fire safety licenses set to expire at the end of next month.
Khan said, “If these factories do not improve their shortcomings within a month, we won’t renew their fire licenses.”
A similar fire struck the Tazreens Fashions factory last November, killing 112. That fire also started on the ground floor, where massive volumes of fabric had been stored without enclosing them within fireproof walls, as required by law. That factory was producing clothing for Walmart, Sears and other retailers.
The April 24 catastrophe has generated intense international scrutiny of Bangladesh’s dilapidated factories and squalid working conditions. In response to these revelations, the US has suspended the impoverished nations GSP (General Systems of Preferences) trade status. Two separate, international consortia of retailers that manufacture garments in Bangladesh formed to supervise and fund the immediate rehabilitation of working conditions there and reconstruction of crumbling factories.
But business has continued unabated in Bangladesh. Despite the slew of revelations regarding what essentially counts as slave labor, its garment industry continues to outperform all of its rivals with the exception of China. With an impressive 16.3 percent increase in exports in the month of June, Bangladesh’s revenue tally for the year has hit $2.7 billion.
And the most recent fire this month was largely neglected by the Western press, an indication that the once insatiable interest in the story has begun to wane.