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Latest Bangladesh Factory Fire Doesn’t Bode Well for Boosting Faith in the Garment Sector

Bangladesh may be of the mind that safety and compliance improvements have been far reaching since Rana Plaza, but the latest fire to roil a factory there has the industry on alert about still-needed upgrades.

A fire broke out at Matrix Sweater Ltd in Gazipur Tuesday, injuring at least four workers and destroying $12.7 million worth of goods waiting for shipment, according to The Daily Star.

An electric short-circuit is reportedly to blame for the blaze that razed the seventh floor of the eight-story building. Not many workers were present when the fire broke out at 7:30 a.m. as their shifts weren’t slated to start until 8:00 a.m. Fire service and civil defense workers got the blaze under control by about 12:30 p.m, the Daily Star reported.

Matrix Sweater employs roughly 2,500 workers and ships close to 7 million sweaters to retailers in Europe and the U.S, with annual exports valued at $50 million.

“Our buyers have started contacting with us and we assured them that production in the factory will start very soon for the shipment of goods,” Matrix deputy managing director Mohammad Kabir Hossain told the Daily Star.

The factory has called for a two-day closure to get business going again.

Matrix had previously been inspected by both the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

Sarah Labowitz, co-director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, who has been researching conditions in Bangladesh’s ready made garment sector and highlighting the risks with sourcing there, said this latest fire points to an urgent need for new solutions to address factory safety.

“The fire at Matrix Sweater is a stark reminder that factory safety issues haven’t been solved in Bangladesh, even in those factories that directly supply foreign fashion brands. Matrix was evaluated as being ‘on track’ by both the Accord and the Alliance, two factory safety initiatives in Bangladesh,” Labowitz said. “This fire is also a reminder that paying to fix factories is as important as inspecting them. It is not enough to identify deficiencies. Factory owners and brands are locked in a stalemate over the costs of remediation that should be urgently resolved.”

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Just last week the Bangladesh government, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the European Union, the United States and Canada, met to discuss progress on the Bangladesh Sustainability Compact and found that practical measures and repairs still need to happen in factories. The Bangladesh government has said in recent months, however, that most factories are now compliant and that workers are happy with the level of safety in the workplace. Manufacturers have even implored buyers to pay higher prices to accommodate the added compliance costs.