Huge Bangladesh fire destroys key garments factory

Huge Bangladesh fire destroys key garments factory

DHAKA - A huge fire on Friday destroyed a Bangladesh garment factory supplying key Western brands, authorities said, in a blaze touched off by workers angered over rumours of a colleague's death in police firing.

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 second-largest apparel exporter after China.

But a series of deadly incidents, including an April building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people, has triggered global concern over weak safety standards in the $22-billion (S$27.6 billion) garment industry.

There were no initial reports of casualties in Friday's fire, which gutted a ten-storey building at Gazipur, 40 km (25 miles) from the capital, Dhaka. Fire fighters were battling to put out the fire in four adjacent buildings.

"We are still struggling to control the flames," said fire official Mahbubur Rahman, adding that 22 fire service and civil defence units from Dhaka and nearby areas were scrambled to fight the fire.

A Reuters photographer at the scene said burnt garments strewn on the floors bore brand names from US 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.

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.

With the factory destroyed, workers there stood to lose their jobs, he added. "Now all the workers are at risk of becoming jobless," he said.

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