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Dozens Injured, One Dead in Bangladesh Factory Fire

At least one worker died and more than 40 were injured or sickened Saturday after a fire tore through a chemicals warehouse at a garment factory in the capital of Dhaka in Bangladesh.

The deceased was identified as Masum Sikder, 23, a wielding operator whom officials suspect suffocated from exposure to hazardous fumes. An autopsy of the body has been ordered.

The fire at Dhaka Garments and Washing Limited in the central Gazipur district was extinguished after an hour, Abdul Hamid Miah, a fire department official, told Anadolu Agency. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, he said.

Witnesses said there were several power outages at the warehouse after 9:30 a.m.; when the blaze broke out around 10 a.m., workers at the garment factory who were housed at a five-story building next door, rushed to the main entrance of the factory but found it locked. Twenty workers sustained injuries from the crowd crush before authorities flung open the gates.

As the workers went to the warehouse to try to put out the flames, at least 22 fell unconscious from inhaling fumes, witnesses said. KM Najmul Ahsan, duty doctor at Sreepur Upazila Health Complex, told The Daily Star that 10 injured workers were admitted to the facility; six were later released and the remaining four were referred to Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute because of suspected damage to their respiratory systems.

Mohammad Selim, general manager of the factory, told The Daily Star that any allegation that workers were trapped during the fire was untrue. Meanwhile, Sreepur Fire Service Station says it has launched an investigation into the incident.

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The tragedy throws fresh scrutiny over industrial safety in Bangladesh, where the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, a disaster that killed 1,134 people, continues to cast a long shadow. Last year, the groundbreaking Accord for Fire and Building and Safety in Bangladesh ceded the last of its responsibilities to a “tripartite platform” of apparel makers, buyers and labor-rights groups, known as the Readymade Garments Sustainability Council (RSC), to monitor safety and compliance in the country.

But four witness signatories to the Accord—the Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum/Global Labor Justice, Maquila Solidarity Network, and Worker Rights Consortium—wrote in a joint brief in October that the RSC is “unprepared to take on this essential safety role,” especially since it’s governed by a board of directors made up predominantly of brands and factory owners.

“Preparations for the transition of the Accord’s local factory inspection operations in Bangladesh to the newly formed RSC were hampered…by the Covid-19 pandemic. Calls from worker rights and safety advocates to postpone the transition until the crisis abates and industry conditions stabilize…were ignored,” they continued. “The hasty and ill-advised transition that has occurred as a result has left the safety of Bangladesh’s garment workers in the hands of [an] RSC that is woefully unprepared to fulfill its immediate responsibilities.”

In December, the Clean Clothes Campaign said the RSC failed to honor a commitment to recruit a boiler inspector as part of the roll-out of a boiler safety program designed to extend the Accord’s original scope following a series of boiler-related accidents.

In response, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the country’s largest trade group of garment factory owners, said that the RSC is “fully committed to [a] high level of transparency as practiced under the Accord” and “commits to implement a boiler safety inspection program in line with [the] national directive.”