DHAKA, Bangladesh – At least 112 people were killed in a fire that raced through a multistory garment factory just outside of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, an official said Sunday.
The blaze broke out late Saturday at the eight-story factory operated by Tazreen Fashions Ltd., a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, which supplies Walmart and other major retailers in the U.S. and Europe.
By Sunday morning, firefighters had recovered 100 bodies, fire department Operations Director Maj. Mohammad Mahbub told The Associated Press. He said another 12 people who had suffered injuries after jumping from the building to escape the fire later died at hospitals. The death toll could rise as the search for victims was continuing, he said.
Local media reported that up to 124 people were killed in the fire. The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear, and authorities have ordered an investigation.
Army soldiers and paramilitary border guards were deployed to help police keep the situation under control as thousands of onlookers and anxious relatives of the factory workers gathered at the scene, Mahbub said.
Tazreen was given a “high risk” safety rating after May 16, 2011, audit conducted by an ethical sourcing assessor for Walmart, according to a document posted on the Tuba Group’s website. It did not specify the conditions or violations that led to the rating.
A spokesman for Walmart said online documents indicating that the factory received an orange or “high risk” assessment after the May 2011 inspection and a yellow or “medium risk” report after an inspection in August 2011 appeared to pertain to the factory where the fire occurred.
The August 2011 letter said Walmart would conduct another inspection within one year. Spokesman Kevin Gardner said it was not clear if that inspection had been conducted, or if the factory was still making products for Walmart.
If a factory is rated “orange” three times in a two-year period, Walmart won’t place any orders for one year. The May 2011 report was the first orange rating for the factory.
There was no indication whether the violations had been fixed since the May inspection. Neither Tazreen’s owner nor Tuba Group officials could be reached for comment.
The Tuba Group is a major Bangladeshi garment exporter whose clients include Walmart, Carrefour and IKEA, according to its website. Its factories export garments to the U.S., Germany, France, Italy and The Netherlands, among other countries. The Tazreen factory, open since 2009 and employing about 1,700 people, makes polo shirts, fleece jackets and T-shirts.
Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of garment products, mainly to the U.S. and Europe.