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U.S. official calls for probe of deadly factory fire in Bangladesh

November 30, 2012|By Shan Li
  • Bangladeshis protest, with some lying on the ground posing as dead bodies, as they condemn the death of workers in a garment factory fire.
Bangladeshis protest, with some lying on the ground posing as dead bodies,… (Pavel Rahman / Associated…)

A Bangladesh garment factory fire that killed 112 people has pushed Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to call for an investigation into the tragic incident.

The fire, which started late Saturday night, swept through a facility outside the city of Dhaka that apparently churned out clothes for many major retailers in the United States, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sears, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement issued Thursday, Solis compared the fire, the worst industrial blaze in Bangladesh history, to the fire in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York that killed nearly 150 workers.

"That fire was our call to action. It galvanized support for stronger worker protections and institutions to enforce them," Solis said. She called the Dhaka fire "a similar call to action for Bangladesh and also for the many international buyers supplied by the country's garment factories."

She added that the U.S. Department of Labor "stands ready to help" the Bangladeshi government "to ensure that this horrific tragedy becomes a watershed moment."

Some of the big retailers that had clothes manufactured at the Tazreen Fashions factory said they had already stopped doing business with the facility, but vendors subcontracted work out without their permission or knowledge.

Wal-Mart said it had already terminated business dealings with the factory after a safety audit showed the facility was "high risk." However, a supplier ended up using the location anyway to manufacture some goods "in direct violation of our policies."

"We have terminated the relationship with that supplier," Wal-Mart said in a statement. The world's largest retailer called the fire "extremely troubling" and vowed to work to improve safety education and training in Bangladesh.

Sears told the AP that it too learned after the fire that a supplier was using the facility to make apparel without informing the retailer.

Industry experts say the tragedy highlights the complexity of the global supply chain, where retailers use vast networks of vendors and manufacturers to churn out their products. Analysts say it can be extremely difficult to keep tabs on every part of the process.

Protests have erupted in Bangladesh as textile workers rally. Police on Wednesday arrested three factory supervisors who are suspected of locking in workers after survivors told authorities that exit doors would not open when they tried to flee, the AP reported.

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Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi

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