Entries in Factory (3)


Factory Workers: We Were Locked In As Flames Spread

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images(DHAKA, Bangladesh) -- More survivors of the factory fire in Bangladesh that killed more than 100 garment workers this weekend have told human rights and international labor groups they were actually locked in by security gates as the flames spread.

"The police and the fire department are confirming that the collapsible gates were locked on each floor," said Charles Kernighan, executive director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. "The fire department said they had to come in with bolt cutters to cut the locks."

The toll of the garment factory blaze now stands at 112, but Kernighan and others interviewed by ABC News said they believe the number may actually be much higher. The destruction inside made it difficult to identify bodies, and Kernighan said factory officials have yet to make public a list of the 1,500 workers believed to be working in the nine-story building at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, when the fire broke out in a first-floor warehouse.

Kalpona Akter, a labor activist based in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka, spoke with a number of survivors, who described a scene of horror as workers started to smell smoke, and then the power went out and they were thrown into darkness.

"Then they ran to the stairs and found it was already fire caught in the stairs," she said. "They broke one window in the east side of the factory and…they started to jump."

Akter said many groups of relatives worked together in the factory, and when the lights went out, many began to scream in search of their mothers and sisters and daughters. She said she also heard accounts of managers shutting the gates as alarms sounded to prevent workers from walking off the job, apparently thinking it was a false alarm.

Authorities in Bangladesh announced three arrests, all supervisors from the factory, whom the police accused of negligence in their handling of the incident.

A journalist who attended the police press conference told ABC News the three men were arrested "because they did not perform their duty" and prevented workers from escaping from the factory, instead of helping them get out.

Also Wednesday, there were new reports that clothing found in the burned-out remains included large quantities of sweatshirts with labels for Disney, the parent company of ABC News. Like Walmart and Sears, Disney said Wednesday it had no idea the Tazreen Fashions Limited factory was not supposed to be making its clothes.

"None of our licensees have been permitted to manufacture Disney-branded products in this facility for at least the last 12 months," a Disney statement read.

As with Disney, other retailers continue to question how their products could be found in a factory they did not know they had hired. Li & Fung, a Hong Kong supplier that works with several large brands, confirmed it was producing clothes in the factory for a Sean Combs label, ENYCE. But in a statement to ABC News Wednesday, Li & Fung said it had not brought clothes to the factory for any other client, including Sears, Disney and Walmart.

Asked why it hired a factory that had been cited by at least one auditor for having safety problems, Li & Fung said it was investigating that question.

"As this tragic event is still under official investigation by the authorities, and since Li & Fung will conduct our own investigation, it would be premature to comment on our prior assessment of the factory's compliance," the statement said.

Labor rights groups said the American clothing companies have an obligation to know where their clothing is being manufactured.

"They have the power to make demands on the factory owners, they don't do it though," Kernighan said. "Because they want to keep cutting the prices, and cutting the prices, and cutting the prices."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Girl Demands Change After Bangladesh Factory Fire Kills 112

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As labor activists push for a major safety overhaul after a garment factory fire that left more than 100 workers dead, the teen survivor of an earlier blaze has launched an online petition calling on three major U.S. clothing companies that buy clothes from Bangladesh, including Walmart, to commit to fire safety in their overseas factories.

A girl who calls herself "Lovely" says she was 11 in 2006 when a fire swept through the clothing factory where she worked.  Lovely and 150 other workers were injured, and more than 60 people died.  She said the building where she worked was a "death trap" -- and that six years later, conditions at Bangladesh factories haven't changed.

"Every day I wonder," asked Lovely, "is this the day when there will be another fire and more people will die?"

On, Lovely, who didn't give her last name, started a petition calling on Wal-Mart, Gap and H&M, the top three buyers of garments from Bangladesh, to pledge support for "a real fire safety program that will save the lives of the companies' sweatshop workers."


The International Labor Rights Forum, which connected Lovely with, also issued a separate joint statement with the Worker Rights Consortium demanding that Walmart compensate the families of those who died in this weekend's fire, and that Walmart join an existing fire and safety program that unions and labor rights groups have created with other foreign companies.  PVH, owner of the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands, has already signed on to the program, as has German retailer Tchibo.

The calls for reform came as Bangladesh government investigators reached an initial conclusion that the weekend's deadly fire may have been intentionally set.

"We have come to the conclusion that it was an act of sabotage.  We are finding out as of now who exactly the saboteurs are and all culprits will be brought to book," said the country's interior minister, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, according to published reports.

One garment industry official, quoted in local media, went so far as to suggest outsiders intentionally set the fire to destabilize the garment industry.

The assertion exposed longstanding deep tensions between government and industry officials on one side, and the thousands of workers who make bare-bones earnings sewing clothes for American and European fashion brands on the other.  Anger from the workers appeared mostly to be directed at factory owners.  One labor organizer told ABC News that the owners were aligned with government "thugs" whom she said help support the owners' efforts to minimize cost, no matter the risk to workers.

At least 112 workers died in the fire at Tazreen Fashions Limited's nine-story factory on the outskirts of the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, late Saturday night.  The death toll may actually be higher, but officials have had difficulty identifying victims because of the intensity of the blaze.  One witness described the scene to ABC News in an email.

"Everything burned," the witness wrote.  "Even the man and woman burned into ashes."

Over the past several days, the names of the American brands that were relying on the Tazreen factory to produce t-shirts, fleece, jeans and other garments has become more clear.  Photos taken by workers showed labels for Walmart's private label, Faded Glory, in the burned-out remains along with clothing for a number of other U.S. labels, including a clothing line by music mogul Sean Combs called ENYCE, and clothing by the workwear brand Dickies.

According to a document posted on-line by the manufacturer, Walmart had been warned by an inspector that the factory posed a safety hazard to workers.  A company spokesman told ABC News that Walmart thought it had dropped the factory from its list of production facilities in Bangladesh, and said it was surprised to learn that a middleman had continued to use Tazreen to produce a Walmart line of clothes.

"A supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies," said a Walmart statement released Monday.  "Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier.  The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh."

The company would not say if it had plans to compensate victims of the fire or provide any assistance to the families of those who lost relatives in the blaze.

The president of Sean Combs's clothing brand provided a statement to ABC News saying the company "expect[s] all our licensees to have in place compliant standards for fire and safety conditions at any factory that may produce our brand," but blamed the decision to produce the line at Tazreen on a middleman -- the Hong Kong-based company Li & Fung.  Li & Fung did not return calls seeking comment, but posted a statement on its website expressing sympathy for the victims, and laying out a plan to compensate each family of a dead worker with a payment of $1,200.

A spokeswoman for Dickies said the company ceased production at the Tazreen factory "earlier this year" but would not say when.  She would not respond to questions inquiring how clothing with the Dickies label was photographed on the factory floor the day after the blaze.

Officials from the company that owns the Tazreen factory have said little as the government has investigated the cause of the fire, and has not addressed the assertions by some survivors of the blaze that factory managers had initially ordered workers to remain in place when fire alarms sounded, that there were limited fire exits, and that at least one exit was locked.  The company, Tuba Group, includes on its website a certificate showing a rating of compliance from a non-profit group called Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production, or WRAP, which is based in Arlington, Va.

The certificate, however, was for a different factory owned by Tuba.  The company initially applied for a certification from the group for the Tazreen factory in November of last year, according to Russ Jowell, communications manager for WRAP.  But Tuba failed to pay the $1,200 application fee for the Tazreen certification, and so the factory was never visited by the group's inspectors.

"The factory in question, Tazreen, has not, nor has it ever been, certified by us.  Not now or ever," Jowell said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hundreds Die in Pakistan's Worst-Ever Factory Fire

RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images(ISLAMABAD) -- As many as 300 people were killed in a factory fire in Karachi, Pakistan, on Wednesday in what was believed to be the country's worst-ever industrial accident.

The blaze swept through a textile factory in a northwestern suburb of the city as employees tried in vain to escape through locked doors and barred windows at the complex.

Authorities said the situation became so desperate that workers threw themselves off fourth-floor roofs, with many sustaining fatal or critical injuries from the falls.

Medical teams tending to the victims said that most of the dead were killed by smoke inhalation while many survivors suffered excruciating third-degree burns.

According to witnesses, two loud explosions were heard before smoke enveloped the factory where clothes and tools were made.

Once rescue and recovery efforts are completed, there will be an investigation into the fire and why there were so few exits available to the victims.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan complained, "The head of the firefighting operations in Karachi has noted that the factory was dangerous, flimsily built and had no emergency exits. Why did all of that escape official attention earlier?"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio