Survivors Describe the Tragedy — Smart Fashion Factory Fire Update and Photos
January 28, 2013 | Share
Workers told us that approximately 400 to 450 workers were in the Smart Fashion Export factory when the fire broke out around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 26. Workers had to break open locked window grates, many jumping from the second floor to escape the flames and dense smoke. One of the factory’s two main exits was also locked. Seven garment workers were killed. The New York Times is reporting that at least eight other injured workers were hospitalized. (Institute's original January 26 alert, Another Fire in Bangladesh - Seven Women Killed at Smart Fashion)
|Broken window grates at the Smart Fashion factory.|
Garment Workers Killed
Ms. Kohinoor (15 years old)
Ms Razia (16 years old)
Ms. Nasima (17 years old)
Ms. Nasima Akther
The Smart Fashion Export factory—which, illegally, lacked even the most rudimentary fire safety equipment—was a tragedy waiting to happen.
I. Eyewitness Account:
Two women senior sewing operators, Ms. Shahana (ID Card #64) and Ms. Rasheda (ID Card #23) described to the Institute’s Dhaka staff what happened when the fire started:
“Usually we go to lunch at 1:00 p.m., but yesterday, January 26, company managers ordered us to go to lunch early, at 12:45 p.m., as the power went off. They told us to return at 1:45 p.m.
“We came back at 1:45 p.m. and started working. At around 2:30 p.m. we suddenly saw smoke and fire coming out of the storage room on the left side of the factory. We panicked and stopped working. There are no exterior fire escapes.
“There are two gates that lead down from the factory. One of the gates was locked when the fire broke out. We panicked and were trying to race down from the factory, but were trapped since the gate was locked.
“It seemed the fire originated in the storage room, and smoke quickly engulfed the entire floor, as foam rubber for the jackets was stacked up there. We felt like we were dying as the toxic fumes went into our nose and mouth. It is our second life, as Allah saved us from danger. On hearing the screaming of the trapped workers, neighborhood people broke down the locked gate. But it was still very narrow. We came down and escaped the fire. We were in front, so we escaped first. Our co-workers who were toward the back of the factory suffered a lot and became sick from inhaling the toxic fumes. Many of our colleagues broke the windows and jumped from the second floor to save their lives. Some of our women co-workers were crushed to death in the stampede. Then the firemen came to douse the fire at around 3:15 p.m., and the fire was under control in an hour or two.
“We know that seven women workers were declared dead at the hospital. At least 20 to 25 workers are critically injured and are receiving medical treatment in several different hospitals in Dhaka City.”
|Smart Fashion Export Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.|
II. Smart Fashion Export Factory
|A subcontracting agreement between Mahi Fashion and Smart Fashion Export. (Daily Star, January 28, 2013.)
Smart Fashion Export Factory
Absar Khan Market
Baribandh, Mohammadpur, Dhaka-1207
Mr. Sharifuddin Khan, Chairman
Mr. Jakir Ahmed, Managing Director
Mr. Sri Subash, Director
Mr. Humayun, Director
It appears that the Mahi Fashion factory and Mac-Tex Industries have been subcontracting work to Smart Fashion.
Three young, teenaged girls were killed in the Smart Fashion factory fire. The youngest was just 15 years old. The two other teenagers were sixteen and seventeen years old. (Under Bangladeshi law, 16-year-olds are classified as child workers, but are permitted to work four hours a day. When a worker reaches 18 years of age, he or she can work regular hours. Needless to say, the Smart Fashion factory violated all the laws on child labor.)
Mr. Altaf Hossain Sikdar is the father of 16-year-old Razia, who was killed in the fire. Mr. Hossain Sikdar has filed a legal suit against the owners of Smart Fashion at the Mohammadpur Police Station for reckless negligence resulting in the criminal death of his young daughter.
The owners and directors of the Smart Fashion Export Factory have fled and gone into hiding. There is little chance that the Smart Fashion factory will re-open soon, if at all. Parents are suing Smart Fashion managers for the deaths of their teenaged daughters.
|Young women workers killed in the fire on January 26. (Photo: Daily Amar Desh)|
A garment worker’s life is worth just $252!
The Government of Bangladesh (Minister of Disaster Management and Relief) has declared that the families of deceased and injured workers will receive, respectively, 20,000 taka ($252) for workers who were killed, and 10,000 taka ($126.02) for workers who were injured.
Bangladeshi garment workers earn some of the lowest wages in the world
* Helpers earn just 18 cents an hour and $8.73 a week.
* Junior sewing operators earn 21 cents an hour and $9.89 a week.
* Senior sewing operators earn 28 cents an hour and $13.38 a week
III. The European Codes of Conduct have failed miserably:
It does not matter if the major European labels sewn at the Smart Fashion sweatshop were illegal subcontracts or not. Either way, they are responsible. When the fire started, the “Bershka” and “Lefties” labels were being sewn for the giant Inditex corporation, while the “Sol’s” label was produced for the Solo Invest corporation and the “Scott & Fox” label was being sewn for the Sylvain Scemana.
These labels are legally and morally responsible to do everything they can to support the families of the dead workers, those injured, and the workers left without a livelihood, until they can find other work.
It is critical and long overdue that major European labels and corporations such as Inditex, Solo Invest and Sylvain Scemana take serious action to confront the huge chasm between their corporate codes of conduct—which are supposed to guarantee fundamental worker rights—and the reality on the ground for Bangladesh’s four million mostly women garment workers, who have few if any rights. The same is true for U.S. labels sewn in Bangladesh
For example, Inditex’s corporate code of conduct guarantees that Bangladeshi garment workers will be afforded safe and decent working conditions, as well as the right to organize an independent union and bargain collectively.
Inditex’s and other corporations’ codes of conduct have been around for the last 20 years in Bangladesh, with, to date, very little if any progress.
Inditex's Code of Conduct
Bangladeshi garment workers would be shocked to learn that the powerful European Inditex Corporation has adopted a Code of Conduct that guarantees Bangladeshi workers producing their products the right to organize free and independent unions, the right to bargain collectively and the right to safe and healthy working conditions.
1.) Respect for freedom of association and collective bargaining:
"Manufacturers and suppliers shall ensure that their employees, without distinction, have the right of association, union membership and collective bargaining. No retaliation may arise from the exercise of such and no remuneration or payment whatsoever may be offered to the employees in order to hinder the exercise of such a right. Likewise, they shall adopt an open and collaborative attitude towards the activities of the trade unions.
"Workers' representatives shall be protected from any type of discrimination and shall be free to carry out their representative functions in their workplace.
"Where the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining are restrained under law, the appropriate channels to ensure reasonable and independent exercise of such rights must be designed."
2.) Safe and hygienic working conditions:
"Manufacturers and suppliers shall provide a safe and healthy workplace to their employees, ensuring minimum conditions of light, ventilation, hygiene, fire prevention, safety measures and access to a drinking water supply.
"...Manufacturers and suppliers shall take the required steps to prevent accidents and injuries to health of their workers, by minimizing as much as possible the risks inherent in work."Source: Inditex Code of Conduct for Manufacturers and Suppliers
Sweatshop Conditions at Smart Fashion Export Factory
Senior women sewing operators describe working conditions at their factory:
Illegal subcontracts were made to the Smart Fashion factory by Mahi Fashion garment factory and Mac-Tex Industries Limited. Mac-Tex workers smuggled these documents out of the factory regarding the Gemo label.