Dhaka: Authorities on Sunday launched a probe into the fire and subsequent stampede at an illegal garment factory that killed seven women workers in the Bangladeshi capital, two months after the country's deadliest industrial fire in a textile unit claimed 112 lives.
The fire that engulfed the small garment factory in Beribadh area on Friday afternoon also injured 10 others, police said.
The deaths were reportedly caused in a stampede when the victims tried to rush to safety following the outbreak of the blaze.
Witnesses said the fire spread fast as inflammable sponges lay inside the Smart Fashions factory, emitting toxic smoke and sparking panic among the workers inside.
Fire service officials said the fire at Smart Fashions, housed in the upper floor of a two-storey building, appeared to have started in a tyre repair and welding shop downstairs. It was suspected to have been caused by an electric short circuit.
Firefighters and police searched the building after the blaze was brought under control and pulled out the six bodies and the seventh death was reported hours later.
"Everything inside the factory has been gutted," a photojournalist told PTI returning from the scene early today while a government statement said a four-member enquiry committee was formed to investigate into the fire incident.
Meanwhile, father of one of the deceased workers filed a case accusing the three directors of the factory of negligence in ensuring safety measures to prevent such tragedies while workers alleged that all exits at the factory were closed.
"It's just a factory in name," operations chief of the fire service Major Mahbubur Rahman told newsmen alleging that the factory had not received an operating licence from the fire service either.
The latest fire incident comes around two months after the country's worst industrial fire in suburban Ashulia that claimed 112 lives and injured around 100 others, raising fresh questions about safety standards.
Nasiruddin Ahmed, vice president of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturing and Exporters Association (BGMEA), a grouping of over 5,000 readymade garment factory owners, said the small garments factory was not a member of their forum.
But reports said the unlicensed Smart Fashions factory was making clothing for Spanish giant Inditex and several French brands while Ahmed said several of the 700 small units produce garments as sub contractors for the foreign buyers.
Disaster Management Ministry official Mohammad Nurul Islam said relatives of each of the deceased and injured in the incident would be given 20,000 takas ($ 252) and 10,000 takas respectively as compensation, according to the report.
Working conditions at Bangladeshi factories are notoriously poor while western retailers have criticized Bangladeshi factories for not ensuring worker safety as overcrowding and locked fire doors are a common phenomenon.
International labour rights groups urged foreign brands and retailers today to join a labour-supported agreement to work towards preventing future tragedies.