Huge Fire At Bangladesh Factory Today Shows Safety Measures Still Need Major Improvements

Photo: Mohammad Asad/ Pacific Press/ LightRocket/ Getty Images.
This morning, an enormous fire broke out at Matrix Sweater Factory in Bangladesh; the factory, located in Gazipur, is a supplier to retailers like JCPenney and H&M. Luckily, most of the factory's 6,000 employees were not yet on the premises, as the fire took place at 7 a.m., according to the International Business Times. An undisclosed number of Gazipur residents who tried to assist in putting out the flames were injured and hospitalized, according to local publication, bdnews24.com.

The blaze follows tragic incidences in nearby factories in recent years: In 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapse killed over 1,100 people, and one year prior, more than 110 people died in a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory. This latest Bangladesh factory calamity serves as another reminder that there's still a long way to go in terms of attaining sufficient safety measures in the region's many clothing factories.

Clearly, further crackdown on factory safety standards is needed beyond what's been done thus far by the two major labor safety initiatives that have been put in place since the 2012 and 2013 tragedies. Those initiatives are the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which is U.S.-based, and Europe's Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (also respectively referred to as the Alliance and the Accord).

“It is astonishing that the Alliance [for Bangladesh Worker Safety] has Matrix Sweaters rated as ‘on track’ with safety renovations,” Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, told The International Business Times. “This factory has missed dozens of deadlines to eliminate fire hazards and make the structure safe, with 72 different hazards still uncorrected almost two years after inspection. Just how dangerous does a factory have to be to earn criticism from the Alliance?”

Even scarier: that there could be nearly 3 million additional workers who aren't protected by these two major safety initiatives, because they work at indirect or subcontracted sourcing, per a recent NYU report.

Additionally, the incident raises concerns about how (or, really, if) factories are being improved, not just inspected. “This fire is also a reminder that paying to fix factories is as important as inspecting them," Sarah Labowitz, co-director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, said in a statement. "It is not enough to identify deficiencies. Factory owners and brands are locked in a stalemate over the costs of remediation that should be urgently resolved."

The only silver lining here is that (completely lucky) timing factor: Thankfully, very few people were harmed, but if the fire had occurred a couple hours later, the outcome could have been far more dire.

Note: The photo above depicts
a Bangladesh factory in the Bangladesh town of Keraniganj; it is not a photo of Matrix Sweater Factory.

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