Dhaka: At least 25 people were killed and over 70 injured, many critically, in a huge fire triggered by a boiler explosion at a packaging factory in Bangladesh today, in one of the worst industrial accidents in the country since 2013 when a building collapse claimed more than 1,100 lives.
Fire service officials believe the disaster at a packaging factory on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka was likely to have been triggered by an exploding boiler, said Syed Ahmed, the country’s inspector-general for factories.
Mr Ahmed said that 25 people had been killed by the outbreak of the fire on Saturday, and at least as many injured, adding that an inquiry would report initial findings within seven working days.
In response to that disaster like building collapse in 2013 , the government passed laws aimed at empowering workers, including easing the formation of labour unions. Retailers including H&M formed an initiative aimed at improving safety standards, which included a legally binding provision to resolve labour disputes. Others including Gap and Walmart opted out and formed a separate initiative without legal obligations.
But human rights organisations have complained over the past year about slow progress in improving safety standards. And the global focus on the garments industry — which in the first quarter of this year accounted for 76 per cent of Bangladesh’s $9.7bn exports — has meant that improvements have been concentrated in that sector, while others have been neglected, said Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity.
“It is a huge concern for me: in the past couple of years we’ve been focusing too much on the garments, but we didn’t give that much focus to other industries like packaging,” she said. “It is high time to do an investigation of all factories,” she added, accusing government inspectors of failing to enforce industrial safety law.
Tampaco Foils, the owner of the plant affected by Saturday’s fire, was founded in 1978 and Mr Ahmed said the factory dated from that period, meaning that “the age of the building could be one problem” behind the disaster.
Tampaco lists on its website customers including the Bangladeshi subsidiaries of British American Tobacco and Swiss food group Nestlé. It claims to “stringently practice … proactive safety awareness” and “fire safety and first aid training for all employees”.
Syed Mokbul Hossain, chairman of the company, did not respond to a request for comment. In July, the owner of the Rana Plaza complex and more than 30 other defendants pleaded not guilty to murder in a Dhaka court. The case continues.