Skip to main content

Seven Dead in New Bangladeshi Fire as NGOs Lash Out

Labor rights groups are ladling additional criticism onto global clothing retailers after another fire on Sunday killed seven workers at a small factory.

The fire that struck Smart Exports Garment Ltd came just two months after the Tazreen Fashions fire, which killed 112 workers and sparked international calls for safety improvements. That fire also led to pressure on apparel retailers to take greater responsibility for their supply chains, as Wal-Mart had clothes in the factory without being aware of it.

Last year, firms were on the brink of an agreement to include safety requirements in the standard garment manufacturing contract, but the deal was scrubbed after opposition by many retailers, including, notably, Wal-Mart. Retailers were reluctant to sign a deal that would commit them to making improvements to factories they did not own.

Sunday’s fire led to a joint statement calling for greater accountability from three NGOs – the Workers Rights Consortium, Clean Clothes Campaign, and International Labor Rights Forum.

Judy Gearhart, executive director of the ILRF, said in the statement, “After more than two decades of the apparel industry knowing about the risks to these workers, nothing substantial has changed.”

The NGOs also criticized brands for keeping audit results secret and for failing to commit to factories in the long term, as well as diminishing the role of trade unions, who have traditionally acted as safety watchdogs.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known, but evidence from another NGO indicates that the seven workers were trampled to death by others trying to escape the blaze. An electrical short circuit is suspected.

The factory was acting as a subcontractor for two other garment factories. It was not a member of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, which had stepped up attempts to insure fire safety among its members. It also had no license from compliance, fire prevention, or labor bodies.