Thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh demonstrated and went on strike Monday after a massive fire killed 121 people at a textile factory, with labor rights organizations calling on the country to address unsafe working conditions in its factories.
The activist Clean Clothes Campaign called for “immediate action from international brands” after the deadly blaze, accusing international clothes brands of “ongoing negligence in failing to address the safety issues highlighted by previous fires.”
“These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work with are death traps,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign in a statement.
“Their failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence,” she added.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association estimates that 3.6 million Bangladeshis are employed in the garment sector, which is a critical component of the impoverished country’s economy.
But a number of deadly fires and reports of unsafe working conditions have left a black mark on the industry. In late 2010, a fire at another facility in Ashulia, located outside of Dhaka in Savar killed 29 workers; there have been numerous fires since the 1990s.
Since 2005, more than 700 garment workers have been killed in Bangladesh in unsafe facilities that produce clothes for Gap, J.C. Penney, Target, Abercrombie, and H&M, estimates the International Labor Rights Forum. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bangladesh’s garment industry makes up 80 percent of the country’s exports.
Around Dhaka, the capital, and in other places, workers left their jobs Monday and joined the protest against Bangladesh’s garment industry, which makes up a huge portion of the impoverished country’s economy, reported the United News of Bangladesh.
Witnesses told the publication that around 20,000 workers demonstrated in front of a Tazreen Fashion facility in Nishchintapur, a suburb in Dhaka, and demanded that the company identify the burnt bodies and face punishment. Police were able to break up the protests, but garment workers blocked a nearby road for two hours.
The protesters accused Tazreen’s owners of running “death traps,” reported India-based NDTV. “Workers from several factories have left work and joined the protest,” Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman said.
Not an Accident, Prime Minister Says
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the country’s Parliament Monday, saying the fire at the Tazreen facility was actually arson, but did not address unsafe working conditions.
She said a woman Sunday night attempted to set fire to another factory belonging to Tazreen.
“I have seen video footage of it recorded on the CCTV camera. A woman entered and left after setting fire (to the factory),” she told Parliament, according to BDNews24. The blaze, she said, was likely linked to religious extremists operating in the country who recently set fires to Buddhist temples in Ramu in southeastern Bangladesh.
She added, “Once attacks were made on police, now the garment factories are being burnt,” reported the state-run news agency BSS.
Initial reports, however, suggest the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit.
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