At least 112 people were killed yesterday when a fire tore through a Bangladesh garment factory that made clothes for a Hong Kong firm, forcing workers to jump from high windows to escape smoke and flames.
Firefighters battled for several hours to control the blaze, which broke out on the ground floor of the nine-storey Tazreen Fashion plant, on the edge of the capital, Dhaka, on Saturday night.
Survivors told how panicked staff, mostly women, desperately tried to escape the factory, which the owner said made clothes for a number of brands including the Dutch chain C&A and the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung company.
Last night a spokesperson for Li & Fung said: "We are very distressed and saddened by the deaths of workers and wish to express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims."
The company pledged US$1,200 to the families of each victim and said a fund would be set up for the education of the victims' children.
"We are in contact with the owner of the factory and we will be carrying out our own investigation into the circumstances which led to the fire."
A worker who gave her name only as Romesa, 42, said from her hospital bed: "There were more than 1,000 workers trapped in the factory. I jumped from a window on the fourth floor and found myself on the third-storey roof of another building. Several people fell out of the window and died."
Bangladesh is a global centre for clothes manufacturing because of its cheap labour, with many popular brands using huge factories to produce items for export to Western markets. But work conditions are often basic and safety standards low.
Firefighters had recovered 100 bodies, fire department director Major Mohammad Mahbub said. He said another 12 people who had suffered injuries after jumping from the building to escape the fire later died in hospitals. The death toll could rise as the search for victims was continuing, he said.
The owner of the Tazreen factory, Delwar Hossain, said the cause of the fire was not yet known. He denied his premises were unsafe. "It is a huge loss for my staff and my factory. This is the first time we have ever had a fire at one of my seven factories," he said, confirming that the premises made clothes for C&A and Li & Fung.
Babul Akhter, head of the Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation, said: "Global buyers who buy cheap apparel from Bangladesh do audit safety issues in factories. But these audits are often not actual inspections."
The Clean Clothes Campaign, an Amsterdam-based rights group, said since 2006 at least 500 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in factory fires.