Another major factory fire in Bangladesh shows “industry safeguards” are failing

Fast fashion.
Fast fashion.
Image: Reuters/Regis Duvignau
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Updated with H&M’s statement at 12:30pm in Hong Kong.

A Bangladesh factory that made clothing for H&M and JC Penny caught on fire early in the morning of  Feb. 2, injuring four and sending plumes of smoke into the air. A local news report shows workers jumping from windows below the floor that is on fire.

Had the fire started just one hour later, “the factory would have been filled with more than 6,000 workers, and the risk of death would have been extreme,” the Clean Clothes Campaign said in a statement. A local resident’s Facebook video shows black smoke and flames engulfing the top floor of the building.

The garment industry’s progress in pushing Bangladesh factories to adopt safety measures has been “painfully slow” since the Rana Plaza factory collapse killed over 1,000 in 2013.

The Matrix Sweater Factory, on the eighth floor of a building in Gazipur, burned for nearly four hours before firefighters could contain it, the Daily Star reported.  The same factory caught on fire on Jan. 29, News Bangladesh reported.

The Matrix factory was inspected in May of 2014 by a US-based “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.” The inspection found that the factory lacked adequate fire doors, sprinklers, fire alarms, and fire hoses, among other deficiencies.

H&M, which relies on super-cheap labor for its fast fashion, low-price model, has come under particular scrutiny. A report on Bangladesh’s garment industry released by a group of labor rights activists on Jan. 29 found that “all but one of H&M’s strategic suppliers remain behind schedule in making repairs and that over 50% of them are still lacking adequate fire exits.” Even more alarming, the report only looked at H&M’s highest-rated Bangladesh suppliers, which accounted for about one-quarter of the total, as Quartz previously reported.

A recent report by a labor rights NGO in India found that workers at factories that make clothes for H&M and others live in near-slavery conditions, confined to hostels and not allowed to leave. In an emailed statement, H&M said it was following an industry accord on improving safety standards closely, and was in “close dialogue with the suppliers and are following up on the work that remains to be done.”