Bangladesh is the second biggest apparel producer in the world, behind China on the strength of being amongst the world’s low cost producers. Apparel workers here earn as little as 21 cents an hour, according to international labor rights organizations. Around 700 garment workers have lost their lives in fires while at work in the last five years, according to the anti-sweatshop - Clean Clothes Campaign in Amsterdam.
Among global apparel brands which used the services of Tazreen Fashions Ltd, the garment factory which caught fire includes the likes of Wal-Mart, C&A, Disney, Sears, ENYCE (Combs's label), Li & Fung, etc.
Wal-Mart had received an audit deeming the factory "high risk" last year. In a statement Wal-Mart said, “The Tazreen factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Walmart. A supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies. We have now terminated the relationship with that supplier”.
Following the fire in a Pakistani garment factory which took the lives of nearly 300 workers in September, Fibre2fashion spoke to a few global apparel brands to make them share their commitments towards providing a congenial and safe environment to garment workers from where they source their clothing and fashion accessories.
According to Kalpona Akter, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers' Solidarity (BCWS), who was at the accident site within 30 minutes of the fire happening, “Supervisors were slow to choose human safety over production quotas, which resulted in such a big death toll”.
India based - Anannya Bhattacharjee of the Asian Floor Wage Alliance said, “The continuing negligence demonstrated by multinational brands and retailers is irresponsible and criminal causing the killing of hundreds of workers in the region. Multinational companies continue to manufacture their products in factories that disregard national laws and hold workers’ lives in contempt”.
Providing the reasons for such a large number of deaths to fibre2fashion, Kalpona Akter said, “The fire was possibly from a short circuit in the electrical wiring. When the fire broke out on the ground floor of the eight-story building, the fire alarm rang and workers got up to run, however, the supervisors told them to go back to their workstations, saying that it was a false alarm.
She added, “Suddenly workers on the ground floor and other floors noticed smoke, after which they all started running helter-skelter. But by this time, the staircase leading to the first floor had caught fire, which increased the panic among workers. This led to workers jumping off from the first, second and third floors through window grills and exhaust fan outlets”.
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