Dhaka: Bangladesh firefighters battled a new blaze at a garment factory Monday as the country prepared for a day of mourning after the death of 110 workers over the weekend in the export industry’s worst accident.
The second fire broke out at a 12-storey facility on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, with some workers trapped on the roof in a further reminder of the dangerous conditions faced by thousands of poorly paid garment stitchers.
“It looks like a huge fire. Our teams have just arrived and are working to douse it,” Zakir Hossain, a senior fire official, told AFP.
Thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh staged protests on Monday demanding better protection after an inferno on Saturday night trapped more than 1,000 workers and forced many to jump from upper floors at the Tazreen Fashion plant, 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Dhaka.
Survivors told how panicked staff, most of them women, tried to escape the burning factory, which made clothes for international brands including the European chain C&A and the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung company.
“Workers from several factories have left their work and joined the protest. They want exemplary punishment to Tazreen owners,” Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman said.
Local police chief Badrul Alam said they had opened a case of murder due to criminal negligence. Two government probes and the police investigation are trying to establish if the owners were to blame for the fire.
“We won’t spare anyone,” police chief Alam promised as the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina prepared to announce a day of mourning for the dead.
Preparations have been made for the mass burial of 59 workers killed on Saturday who cannot be identified. Their remains, often burnt beyond recognition, will be laid to rest at a state graveyard in a southern suburb of Dhaka.
“We are keeping the DNA samples of the dead workers so that we can identify their relatives for compensation,” Dhaka district police commissioner Yusuf Harunhe said.
Bangladesh has emerged as the world’s second-largest clothes exporter with overseas garment sales topping $19 billion last year, or 80% of national exports.
The sector is the mainstay of the poverty-stricken country’s economy, employing 40% of its industrial workforce, but work conditions are often basic and safety standards low.