Suspected arson at giant Bangladesh garment factory: police

Suspected arson at giant Bangladesh garment factory: police

DHAKA - Bangladesh police said Friday they were investigating a suspected arson attack on one of the country's largest garment factories which produces clothes for Western brands.

Fires broke out at two Standard Group buildings in the industrial district of Gazipur outside the capital Dhaka at around 11pm (1700GMT) Thursday following clashes between workers and officers.

The blaze in one of the plants was brought under control quickly, but the other burnt throughout the night, with 15 fully laden trucks also going up in flames, a senior fire officer Mahbubur Rahman told AFP.

Workers allegedly went on the rampage at the factory complex following rumours that two workers had been killed during demonstrations to demand higher wages and better conditions.

"We think it's an act of arson committed by workers from both inside the factory complex and outside," Mosharraf Hossain, a senior officer in the Industrial Police force, told AFP.

Bangladesh's garment sector, the world's second biggest after China, has been plagued by unrest by workers who often toil on long shifts six days a week for the lowest wages in the world.

They became more vocal in their demand for better conditions after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in April, which left 1,135 people dead in one of the world's worst industrial accidents.

The government raised the minimum wage by 76 per cent to $68 to be effective from December this year, but many workers are unhappy and are pushing their demand for $100 a month.

Standard Group is one of the largest garment manufacturers in Bangladesh whose website lists Sears, Gap, Zara and Tommy Hilfiger as clients.

Company officials could not be contacted for comment.

"The factory has lost about $100 million in fabrics, machinery, ready-to-export apparel furniture and fittings," said Reaz Bin Mahmood, a vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

"It is a fully compliant factory and its workers are paid well and without any delay," he told AFP.

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