By Serajul Quadir
DHAKA Nov 29 A devastating fire ripped through
a Bangladesh garment factory supplying major Western retailers,
police and industry officials said on Friday, in a blaze set by
workers angered over rumours of a colleague's death in police
Garments are a vital sector for the South Asian nation,
whose low wages and duty-free access to Western markets have
helped make it the world's largest apparel exporter after China.
But a series of deadly incidents, including a building
collapse that killed more than 1,100 people in April, has
sparked global concern over weak safety standards in the
country's $22-billion garment industry.
There were no reports of casualties in Friday's fire, which
gutted a ten-storey building at Gazipur, 40 km (25 miles) north
of the capital, Dhaka.
But fire fighters were still battling to douse the fire in
four nearby buildings, more than 15 hours after it had begun
around midnight on Thursday, after workers finished for the day.
"We are still struggling to control the flames," said fire
official Mahbubur Rahman, adding that 22 fire service and civil
defence units been thrown into the fire-fighting operation.
At the scene, a Reuters photographer said burnt garments
strewn on the floors bore brand names from U.S. retailers such
as American Eagle Outfitters Inc, Gap Inc and
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Other brands on the clothes included Li and Fung Ltd
, Marks and Spencer Group PLC, Sears Canada Inc
, Fast Retailing Co Ltd's Uniqlo and
Inditex S.A. brand Zara.
Nur-e-Alam, a senior manager of Standard Group, said the
factory had stored the next six months of its supplies for top
global retailers, including Gap and Wal-Mart.
"We were the biggest supplier of Gap in Bangladesh," he
said, adding "Our cargoes were ready for shipment and all that
was burnt up."
The loss to the firm could run into more than $100 million,
estimated another group official, who asked not to be
identified, saying the final tally could exceed his figure.
The factory was among the ten biggest in the country, said
Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of industry body the
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association,
adding that the destruction could cost workers their jobs.
"Now all the workers are at risk of becoming jobless," he
As many as 18,000 people worked at the factory, its owner,
Mosharraf Hossain, told Reuters.
A local police official dismissed as baseless the claim that
a worker had died in the firing, adding that a group of workers
assisted by nearby residents had set the fire.
"We are investigating to find out the reason for this
heinous act," said Mohammad Kamruzzaman, the officer in charge
of the Joydevpur police station that guards the area.
Police and witnesses said tempers flared following a mosque
loudspeaker announcement of a worker's death after police fired
in the air to break up a road blockade by workers who had
earlier vandalized the factory and set two buildings on fire.
Police had to fire shots in the air to scatter the workers
and let in fire fighters, Mushfiqur Rahman, another manager at
Standard Group, told reporters.
The recent string of accidents in Bangladesh has put the
government, industrialists and the global brands that use the
factories under pressure to reform an industry that employs four
million people and generates 80 percent of export earnings.