DHAKA, Bangladesh —
A fire at a garment factory north of Dhaka, the capital,
killed at least 20 people and injured dozens on Tuesday,
in the latest blow to the country’s largest industry.
The fire at a 10-story factory in the Ashulia industrial
area, about 16 miles from the capital, started on the ninth
floor around lunchtime, when most of the workers were outside.
Local reporters who had canvassed hospitals said at least
24 people had been killed. Factory officials said they knew
of about 20 deaths.
About 5,000 people worked in the building, producing pants
for customers in the United States and Europe, said Delwar
Hussain, a deputy managing director at the Ha-Meem Group,
which owns the factory. Fire officials were still fighting
the fire, which spread to the top floor, into the evening
as people gathered at the compound to look for relatives.
It was not immediately clear which Western retailers were
supplied by the factory. Garment factories employ about
three million Bangladeshis, most of them women, to make
clothes for stores like Wal-Mart and H & M.
Just days ago, three people were killed in labor protests.
Workers have said they were protesting because some factories
had not carried out a government-mandated 80 percent increase
in the minimum wage, to 3,000 taka a month or about $43.
It was unclear what had caused the fire at the Ha-Meem
factory and whether it was related to the labor unrest.
Mr. Hussain said that the company suspected an electrical
short circuit, but that investigators from the government
and the garment industry association were still working
to establish the cause.
Piles of clothes in garment factories are easily combustible.
Fires can be very deadly because some factory owners lock
exits to prevent workers from leaving their machines. Mr.
Hussain said the doors at the company’s factory had
not been locked.
International labor groups have criticized the safety of
Bangladesh’s garment factories. A factory fire outside
Dhaka in February killed more than 20 people.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association
said it would pay the families of workers killed in the
Ha-Meem fire 100,000 taka (about $1,400), and the company
has promised to pay another 100,000 taka.
Mr. Hussain said the company hoped to reopen the first
eight floors of the factory as early as Tuesday because
they did not appear to be damaged. He said the company expected
to meet all pending orders. The ninth floor was used as
a finishing area where workers prepared shipments, and the
10th floor housed a dining hall, he said.