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Global retailers shamed after another garment fire in Bangladesh

Labor groups are calling for global clothing retailers to ensure adequate safety measures for garment workers in Bangladesh after a blaze killed seven factory workers.

By Serajul QuadirReuters / January 27, 2013

Bangladeshi garment worker Laiju stands inside the damaged Smart Export Garment Ltd. factory where a fire Saturday claimed the lives of seven of her female colleagues in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Sunday. Bangladesh's government has ordered an investigation into allegations that the sole emergency exit at the factory was locked, an official said Sunday.

A.M. Ahad/AP

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Dhaka, Bangladesh

International labor rights groups called on Sunday for global clothing retailers to ensure adequate safety measures for garment workers in Bangladesh after a blaze killed seven employees at a small factory.

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Saturday's fire gutted Smart Exports Garment Ltd, just two months after Bangladesh's worst ever factory blaze killed 112 workers and injured 150 at Tazreen Fashions Ltd, a multi-story garment workshop in Dhaka's Ashulia suburb.

In a joint statement issued after the latest blaze, three organizations asked retailers and brands to sign a fire safety agreement with Bangladesh.

"After more than two decades of the apparel industry knowing about the risks to these workers, nothing substantial has changed," the executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, Judy Gearhart, said in the statement.

"Brands still keep their audit results secret. They still walk away when it suits them and trade unions are still marginalized, weakening workers' ability to speak up when they are at risk," she added.

The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) also signed the statement.

Another rights group, the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (ILGHR), said on its website it had gained access to the gutted factory and found seven women workers had been crushed to death as employees tried to escape the fire.

Firefighters and police said the cause of the latest blaze was not yet known. Survivors said it could have been caused by an electrical short circuit at the factory on the upper floor of a two-story building in the crowded Mohammadpur area.

Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity, told Reuters that two garment factories had subcontracted orders to the factory's owner, Smart Export Garments Ltd.

She said the company was not a member of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association and had no license from fire prevention or labor bodies.

An official report into the Tazreen blaze in November concluded it was the result of both sabotage and negligence.

Bangladesh has about 4,500 garment factories and is the world's biggest exporter of clothing after China. Clothing makes up 80 percent of its $24 billion annual exports.

* Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Ron Popeski

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