Sunday, November 25, 2012

[olympiaworkers] Fire kills 112 workers at Bangladesh garment-maker

Nov. 25, 2012 Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Fire raced up the floors of a garment factory in
Bangladesh, killing at least 112 people, many of them trapped in the
eight-story building with no emergency exits where they make clothes for
major global retailers.

The factory outside the capital, Dhaka, is owned by Tazreen Fashions Ltd.,
a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which makes products for Wal-Mart and
other companies in the U.S. and Europe.

Firefighters recovered at least 100 bodies from the factory and 12 more
people died at hospitals after jumping from the building to escape, Maj.
Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director, told The Associated
Press on Sunday.

Local media reported that up to 124 people were killed. The cause of the
blaze that began late Saturday was not immediately clear, and authorities
ordered an investigation.

Army soldiers and border guards were helping keep order as thousands of
onlookers and anxious relatives of the factory workers gathered, Mahbub

Tazreen was given a "high risk" safety rating after a May 16, 2011, audit
conducted by an "ethical sourcing" assessor for Wal-Mart, according to a
document posted on the Tuba Group's website. It did not specify what led
to the rating.

Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner said online documents indicating an
orange or "high risk" assessment after the May 2011 inspection and a
yellow or "medium risk" report after an inspection in August 2011 appeared
to pertain to the factory. The August 2011 letter said Wal-Mart would
conduct another inspection within one year.

Gardner said it was not clear if that inspection had been conducted or
whether the factory was still making products for Wal-Mart.

If a factory is rated "orange" three times in two years, Wal-Mart won't
place any orders for one year. The May 2011 report was the first orange
rating for the factory.

Neither Tazreen's owner nor Tuba Group officials could be reached for

The Tuba Group is a major Bangladeshi garment exporter whose clients also
include Carrefour and IKEA, according to its website. Its factories export
garments to the U.S., Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, among
other countries. The Tazreen factory, which opened in 2009 and employed
about 1,700 people, made polo shirts, fleece jackets and T-shirts.

Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety
measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of
garment products, mainly to the U.S. and Europe.

In its 2012 Global Responsibility report, Wal-Mart said that "fire safety
continues to be a key focus for brands and retailers sourcing from
Bangladesh." Wal-Mart said it ceased working with 49 factories in
Bangladesh in 2011 because of fire safety issues, and was working with its
supplier factories to phase out production from buildings deemed high

At the factory, relatives of the workers frantically looked for their
loved ones. Sabina Yasmine said she saw the body of her daughter-in-law,
but had seen no trace of her son, who also worked there.

"Oh, Allah, where's my soul? Where's my son?" wailed Yasmine, who works at
another factory in the area. "I want the factory owner to be hanged. For
him, many have died, many have gone."

Mahbub said the fire broke out on the ground floor, which was used as a
warehouse, and spread quickly to the upper floors. Many workers who
retreated to the roof were rescued, he said. But he said that with no
emergency exits leading outside the building, many victims were trapped,
and firefighters recovered 69 bodies from the second floor alone.

"The factory had three staircases, and all of them were down through the
ground floor," Mahbub said. "So the workers could not come out when the
fire engulfed the building."

"Had there been at least one emergency exit through outside the factory,
the casualties would have been much lower," he said.

Many victims were burned beyond recognition. The bodies were laid out in
rows at a school nearby. Many of them were handed over to families;
unclaimed victims were taken to Dhaka Medical College for identification.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed shock at the loss of so many lives.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it
would stand by the victims' families.

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