As the death toll from the recent garment factory collapse in Bangladesh rises to over 900 people, a deadly fire has swept through another garment factory in the capital of Dhaka, killing eight people. Although it is still unclear what started the blaze in the 11-story building, initial reports have suggested that it was caused by a short circuit. Factory fires are the most common cause of death in Bangladesh's garment industry, the world's second largest clothing exporter after China.
This latest disaster in the garment industry again highlights the need to improve safety standards, where around 700 people have been killed by factory fires since 2006. Critics caution that past reform campaigns and improved fire and safety regulations have tended to end up getting watered down or ignored. In light of these recent tragedies, it is imperative that all the different stakeholders involved, including government, local industry, and international retailers, work together to address the issue.
The death toll may have been higher if the factory, owned by the Tung Hai Group, had not been closed when the fire broke out. According to officials, the victims included the managing director, who was also on the board of directors of the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a top local police official, four staff members at the factory, and a lower level police official. Fire department officials said the victims died of suffocation in the stairwell.
In the wake of the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex two weeks ago, the Bangladesh government announced on Wednesday that it will close down 18 factories, 16 in the capital and two in Chittagong, while they underwent safety inspections. Textiles and Jute Minister Abdul Latif Siddique said that the government will "close down factories deemed to be dangerous." The Los Angeles Times reports that the government also announced that, in cooperation with the International Labor Organization (ILO), 200 extra building inspectors will be added over the next six months and that it will introduce a bill to parliament that would allow collective bargaining.
These are welcome steps, but as Mark Magnier points out in the Times, "it remains to be seen how effective these proposed reforms will be," especially given that Bangladesh has a "history of passing great-sounding laws that aren’t effectively implemented."