Workers protest over 'deathtrap' conditions
DHAKA: Garment workers in Bangladesh have staged mass protests to demand the end of ''deathtrap'' labour conditions after the country's worst textile factory fire in which at least 110 employees died.
Survivors of Saturday's fire joined thousands of colleagues blocking a highway during a march in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia, outside the capital Dhaka, with some protesters throwing stones at a factory.
Bangladesh's chief inspector of factories, Habibul Islam, said the nine-storey Tazreen factory where the blaze broke out, which was built in 2009, had permission for only three storeys. ''They expanded the building without our approval,'' he said.
Horror … workers inspect the burnt out Tazreen factory. Photo: AFP
More than 500 factories in Ashulia make clothing for retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Tesco. The factories declared a ''holiday'', fearing the protests could worsen and turn into large-scale unrest.
A Bangladeshi labour leader, Kalpona Akter, said she toured the factory after the fire and found labels for retailers, including Faded Glory, a brand she said was made for Walmart, and for brands sold at leading European chains.
''These international Western brands have a lot of responsibility for these fire issues,'' said Ms Akter, the executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity.
''In this factory, there was a pile of fabrics and yarn stored on the ground floor that caught fire. Workers couldn't evacuate through the stairs. What does this say about compliance?''
On Monday, Walmart fired a supplier that made garments at the factory. ''The Tazreen factory was no longer authorised to produce merchandise for Walmart,'' Kevin Gardner, a Walmart spokesman, said.
''A supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorisation and in direct violation of our policies. Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier.''
Agence France-Presse, The New York Times, Bloomberg