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A Recurring Tragedy: Death In A Bangladesh Garment Factory

Oct 9, 2013
Originally published on October 9, 2013 12:06 pm

There's been a deadly fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh — the latest in a series of such tragedies and just six months after the worst disaster in the history of the global garment industry.

At least 10 people were killed at the Aswad garment factory outside the capital, Dhaka, early Wednesday. The immediate cause was not known. This factory, like others where tragedy has struck, produced clothes for a number of Western companies.

Here's more from The Wall Street Journal:

"Aswad Composite Mills has recently produced clothes for Western retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Loblaw Cos., the Canadian owner of the Joe Fresh label, and Hudson's Bay Co., according to several online shipping databases. Hudson's Bay said it last received a delivery from the factory in April and subsequently decided it would no longer place orders with the factory. A spokeswoman didn't elaborate on whether the decision was based on safety reasons. A spokeswoman for Loblaw said it was looking into the issue. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said it is 'working to understand the facts and will take appropriate action based on our findings.' She declined to elaborate."

The fire is a blow to the country's $20 billion garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent of Bangladesh's exports.

The country is the second largest garment exporter in the world, trailing only China, and has some 5,000 factories. But the industry's growth has led to, in the words of Bloomberg, "factories operated in buildings with poor electrical wiring, an insufficient number of exits and little fire-fighting equipment."

A Series Of Disasters

In November 2012, more than 100 people died in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory outside Dhaka. But it wasn't until the Rana Plaza collapse in April that the world's focus turned to working conditions in Bangladesh's garment factories. More than 1,000 people died at the Rana Plaza, making it the worst disaster in the garment industry's history.

(You can read/ listen to some of NPR's coverage of the tragedy here, here and here.)

Earlier this year, a coalition of mostly European retailers signed an accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh. Separately, a group of mostly American companies signed its own pact, which excluded labor unions.

Other Countries Criticized

Bangladesh isn't the only country where conditions in garment factories have been criticized.

Cambodia's factories were once lauded as a model for the developing world, but a report from the U.N.'s International Labor Organization this year found that "improvements are not being made in many areas including fire safety, child labor, and worker safety and health."

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