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Demands for Justice Follow Deadly Sweatshop Fire

Thousands protest in Bangladesh over garment industry's deadly safety record as new blaze breaks out

- Common Dreams staff

Thousands of workers in Bangladesh took to the streets on Monday to demand justice following a sweatshop fire in the capital city of Dhaka that left at least 120 dead.

Workers shout slogans as they protest against the death of their colleagues after a devastating fire in a garment factory which killed more than 100 people, in Savar November 26, 2012. (photo Andrew Biraj / Reuters) News agencies report that some survivors of the blaze joined the protest demanding punishment for Tazreen, the owner of the factory, as they highlighted the dangers of the industry that produces clothing for some of the most well-known brands at a high cost to the people who make them.

Agence France-Presse reports: "Police said Ashulia's more than 500 factories who make apparel for top global retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Tesco declared a wild-cat 'holiday,' fearing that the protests could worsen and turn into large-scale unrest."

"I haven't been able to find my mother," one worker, who gave her name as Shahida told Reuters. "I demand justice, I demand that the owner be arrested."

Lack of Regard for Safety at Factory

Amirul Haque Amin, president of Bangladesh's National Garment Workers Federation, emphasized the systemic and continuing lack of regard for safety at the garment factories.

"This disastrous fire incident was a result of continuing neglect of workers' safety and their welfare."

"Whenever a fire or accident occurs, the government sets up an investigation and the authorities - including factory owners - pay out some money and hold out assurances to improve safety standards and working conditions. But they never do it," said Amin.

The Globe and Mail reports that the factory was repeatedly cited by authorities for safety violations.

The Walmart Connection

Walmart, recently under increased fire in the US as workers went on strike to demand better wages and improved working conditions, is also being scrutinized for its involvement in the Dhaka factory fire.

Josh Eidelson writes at The Nation that the retail behemoth hasn't confirmed any relationship to the Dhaka factory

But in a Monday interview, Workers Rights Consortium Executive Director Scott Nova said Walmart’s “culpability is enormous. First of all they are the largest buyer from Bangladesh” and so “they make the market.” Nova said Bangladesh has become the world’s second-largest apparel supplier "because they’ve given Walmart and its competitors what they want, which is the cheapest possible labor costs.”

“So Walmart is supporting, is incentivizing, an industry strategy in Bangladesh: extreme low wages, non-existent regulation, brutal suppression of any attempt by workers to act collectively to improve wages and conditions,” Nova told The Nation. “This factory is a product of that strategy that Walmart invites, supports, and perpetuates.” The WRC is a labor monitoring group whose board is composed of students, labor organizations, and university administrators. [...]

But photos taken after the fire taken the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, provided to The Nation by the International Labor Rights Forum, show clothing with Walmart’s exclusive Faded Glory label (photos below). Nova accused Walmart of intentionally dragging its feet on admitting its connection to the factory, in hopes that by the time the connection is confirmed, the media will have lost interest.

A second fire hit another garment factory in the Dhaka suburb of Uttara on Monday. No casualties have been reported at this point.

Al Jazeera has video on the fire that broke out Monday:

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