By Serajul Quadir
DHAKA Dec 1 International garment firms have
demanded fast action to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi textile
workers, a week after a plant fire killed more than 100 people,
a senior industry official in the country said on Saturday.
Mohammad Shafiul Islam, President of the Bangladesh Garment
Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said a
19-member buyers' forum was blunt in suggesting it would "lose
confidence" in the country's industry unless change came fast.
Rights groups have called on big-brand firms to sign up for
a fire safety programme.
Islam quoted company officials at the meeting on Friday as
saying that while some factories in Bangladesh observed safety
regulations, "many of them do not comply with these".
"Now we want to see proper action towards implementation of
compliance issues, instead of commitments," he quoted Roger
Hubert, Vice-President of Hong Kong-based Li & Fung Ltd
, as telling the meeting.
Hubert, he said, pledged financial support for the families
of those who died in the fire. Representatives of Li & Fung and
other companies present were unavailable for comment.
Last week's fire at Tazreen Fashions, Bangladesh's
worst-ever industrial blaze, was blamed by authorities on
saboteurs. Police say narrow exits trapped workers inside the
nine-storey building, killing 111 people and injuring more than
Three employees have been arrested and police say they are
being investigated for suspected negligence.
Several hundred workers demonstrated outside the gutted
plant on Saturday demanding what they said was three months in
wage arrears. Protesters briefly blocked a highway and other
plants in the area stopped work, fearing vandalism.
A senior official from the BGMEA said the association had
agreed to pay one month in back wages on behalf of the plant and
was trying to settle all outstanding issues.
The fire has drawn attention to global retailers that source
clothes from Bangladesh where wages are low - as little as the
equivalent of $37 for some workers.
The meeting was attended by representatives of major
clothing companies, including H&M, TSS, SEARS, TCHIBO, Global
Merchants, GAP Inc, Nike Inc, LEVIS, Kappahl,
Carrefour and Primark. No representative of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Islam said he told the companies his association would form
a task force next week to uphold safety regulations at
"We have described the post-fire situation as a crisis in
the industry and requested all stakeholders to come forward with
a collaborative approach to address the crisis," Islam said.
The association, he said, had been trying to communicate
with Walmart. The U.S. retail giant this week said one of its
suppliers subcontracted work to the factory without
authorisation and would no longer be used.
Other retailers, like Gap and Nike, denied any relationship
with the workshop.