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Yet another factory fire

January 29, 2013

JUST two months after a devastating fire claimed at least 112 lives at Tazreen Fashions Limited … on the outskirts of … Dhaka, yet another apparel factory fire took place at Mohammadpur in the city on Saturday. As … reported … at least seven female workers died in [a] stampede and of suffocation while 20 others [were] injured when workers … scrambled to come out of the factory called Smart Export Garment. …

Moreover, the factory had no emergency fire exit while one of its two exits allegedly remained closed when the fire broke out. … Fortunately, many of its 360 workers were out of the building for lunch; otherwise, the death toll could have been much higher.

As the first vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association pointed out, Smart Export Garment was neither affiliated with them nor did it have any approval from them. It is still to be clear if it had clearances from the relevant government authorities, including [the] Fire Service and Civil Defence Directorate, to operate. … However, it is clear that the factory with minimum safety compliance has conducted its operations day after day under the nose of the government agencies tasked with overseeing the issues.

In this context, the fire … provides a poignant pointer to the fact that the drives conducted by different government agencies … against non-compliant apparel factories … in the wake of [the] Tazreen inferno may have been nothing but … eyewash. … It is also true that there is hardly any factory fire incident … so far in which either the errant management concerned or any government official entrusted with the duty to monitor safety issues there has been brought to justice. …

The fire … occurred at a time when the apparel sector that accounts for more than 76 per cent of the country’s total annual export earnings and provides employment directly to millions of poor people and indirectly to millions more is at risk of losing [the] international market reportedly for non-compliance issues. Besides, a US congressional delegation is currently visiting Dhaka mainly to see the compliance condition in apparel factories. It is indeed high time that the government came up with stringent measures to streamline the sector. —(Jan 28)