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Bangladesh must ensure fire safety, say global firms

DHAKA: International garment firms have demanded fast action to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi textile workers, a week after a plant fire killed more than 100 people, a senior industry official in the country said yesterday.
Mohammad Shafiul Islam, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said a 19-member buyers’ forum was blunt in suggesting it would “lose confidence” in the country’s industry unless change came fast.
Rights groups have called on big-brand firms to sign up for a fire safety program.
Islam quoted company officials at the meeting on Friday as saying that while some factories in Bangladesh observed safety regulations, “many of them do not comply with these.”
“Now we want to see proper action toward implementation of compliance issues, instead of commitments,” he quoted Roger Hubert, Vice-President of Hong Kong-based Li & Fung Ltd. , as telling the meeting.
Hubert, he said, pledged financial support for the families of those who died in the fire. Representatives of Li & Fung and other companies present were unavailable for comment.
Last week’s fire at Tazreen Fashions, Bangladesh’s worst-ever industrial blaze, was blamed by authorities on saboteurs. Police say narrow exits trapped workers inside the nine-story building, killing 111 people and injuring more than 150.
Three employees have been arrested and police say they are being investigated for suspected negligence.
The fire has drawn attention to global retailers that source clothes from Bangladesh where wages are low — as little as the equivalent of $37 for some workers.
The meeting was attended by representatives of major clothing companies, including H&M, TSS, SEARS, TCHIBO, Global Merchants, GAP Inc, Nike Inc, LEVIS, Kappahl, Carrefour and Primark. No representative of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was present.
Islam said he told the companies his association would form a task force next week to uphold safety regulations at individual plants.
“We have described the post-fire situation as a crisis in the industry and requested all stakeholders to come forward with a collaborative approach to address the crisis,” Islam said.

Bangladesh’s government said yesterday it will give 200,000 takas ($2,500) to the families of those who died in a garment factory fire last week and 50,000 takas ($625) to those who were injured.
The government’s offer of compensation, announced to The Associated Press by Mahbubul Hoque Shakil, an aide to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was separate from the garment industry’s promise to pay the families of the victims a monthly salary for at least 10 years.
More than 1,000 workers at the Tazreen factory in a Dhaka suburb protested outside the burned-out facility on Saturday demanding compensation for their lost wages. The government announced they would be paid for November, but some angry workers demanded they be given four months’ salary.

Extra police were deployed to the area to maintain calm, said Kader Dewan, an assistant commissioner of police.