After two fires in three days at Bangladesh garment factories – one of which killed at least 112 people – thousands took to the streets to protest violations such as locked doors and lack of fire escapes.
Just after a fire killed at least 112 workers at a garment factory in the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, another 10-story factory caught fire Monday morning, and thousands took to the streets to protest the factories’ poor safety standards.
Though no one was killed in the second fire, during both fires the main doors to the factories were reported to be padlocked, blocking easy escape.
The protests put a spotlight on the poor working conditions, lack of fire escapes, and garment owner negligence that has racked the world's second-largest garment-exporting country, where firms produce clothing for high-profile brands including Gap, H&M, and Wal-Mart.
“Every time these incidents occur, the owners get away without making any change to their working conditions inside the factories,” says Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, assistant executive director of Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies (BILS). “These incidents will have to be treated as an offense in order to stop such occurrences.”
Bangladesh's garment industry employs 4 million people, 3 million of them women, at some 4,500 factories, says Siddiqur Rahman, a vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). And between 1990 and 2012, there have been at least 33 major fires in garment factories, claiming some 500 lives, according to BILS.
The 2006 Bangladesh Labor Law and the Factories Rules of 1979 would be strong laws if they were applied effectively, says Babul Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers’ Federation, a national trade union federation. Both legal frameworks stress the welfare of workers and settlement of disputes between workers and employers. To date, however, none of the factory fires have had a conclusive investigation, nor has anyone been found responsible.