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Scores dead in Bangladesh factory fire as workers were locked inside

The factory that caught fire on Thursday was subsidiary of Sajeeb Group, a Bangladeshi company that produces juice under Pakistan’s Lahore-based Shezan International Ltd, said Kazi Abdur Rahman, the group’s senior general manager for export.

Firefighters work to douse a fire at a food and beverage factory in Rupganj, outside Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Firefighters work to douse a fire at a food and beverage factory in Rupganj, outside Dhaka, Bangladesh.Credit:AP

According to the group’s website, the company exports its products to a number of countries including Australia, the United States, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Bhutan, Nepal and nations in the Middle East and Africa.

Rahman told The Associated Press by phone that the company is fully compliant with international standards, but he was not certain whether the exit of the factory was locked. According to Bangladesh’s factory laws, a factory cannot lock its exit when workers are inside during production hours.

“We are a reputed company; we maintain rules,” he said. “What happened today is very sad. We regret it.”

As the recovery effort was carried out on Friday, victims in white body bags were piled in a fleet of ambulances as relatives wailed. As the heavy smoke continued to rise from the still smouldering factory, weeping family members of missing workers waited anxiously for news of loved ones outside the charred site.

A firefighter inside the burnt food and beverage factory.

A firefighter inside the burnt food and beverage factory.Credit:AP

Earlier, family members clashed with police as they waited overnight without any word of the fate of their loved ones.

The government ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire.

Past industrial tragedies have often been attributed to safety lapses that still plague the South Asian country despite its rapid economic growth.

In 2012, about 117 workers died when they were trapped behind locked exits in a garment factory in Dhaka.

The country’s worst industrial disaster came the following year, when the Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1100 people.

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Authorities imposed tougher safety rules after that disaster and the country’s garment industry has since become largely compliant under domestic and global watchdogs. But many other local industries fail to maintain safety compliance and the disasters have continued.

In February 2019, a blaze ripped through a 400-year-old area cramped with apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of Dhaka and killed at least 67 people. Another fire in Old Dhaka in a house illegally storing chemicals killed at least 123 people in 2010.

The International Labor Organisation said in a 2017 report that Bangladesh’s regulatory framework and inspections “had not been able to keep pace with the development of the industry”.

AP

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