Bangladeshis mourn garment-fire dead, plan protest

Associated Press Modified: November 27, 2012 at 5:01 am •  Published: November 27, 2012
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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh held a day of mourning Tuesday for the 112 people killed in a weekend fire at a garment factory, and labor groups planned more protests to demand better worker safety in an industry notorious for operating in firetraps.

The national flag flew at half-staff in government buildings. The country's factories were closed as a mark of respect, and prayers for the dead were held in places of worship across the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.

Relatives and colleagues gathered near the site of Saturday's blaze, many wearing black badges as a sign of mourning.

"I've lost my son and the only member to earn for the family," said Nilufar Khatoon, the mother of a worker who died. "What shall I do now?"

Some labor organizations planned rallies later Tuesday. About 15,000 workers protested Monday blocks away from the gutted factory, blocking traffic on a major highway in a suburb of Dhaka, the capital.

In a statement issued Tuesday the European Union deplored the loss of lives in the fire and urged the Bangladesh government to improve working conditions in garment factories.

"The European Union has always been very clear about the need to improve working standards and safety in this sector," said the statement. European market is a major export destination of Bangladesh textiles.

The fire was the deadliest of many to hit garment factories in Bangladesh in recent years. The industry has grown from nothing to become the country's dominant exporter in little more than three decades, but factories often ignore safety in the rush to supply major retailers in the U.S. and Europe. More than 300 people have died over the past six years in Bangladesh garment-factory fires.

Wal-Mart said Monday that the factory, owned by Tazreen Fashions Ltd., had been making clothes for the U.S. retail giant without its knowledge. Tazreen was given a "high risk" safety rating after a May 2011 audit conducted by an "ethical sourcing" assessor for Wal-Mart, according to a document posted on the website of Tazreen's parent company, the Tuba Group.

Wal-Mart said the factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart but that a supplier subcontracted work to it "in direct violation of our policies." The retailer said it stopped doing business with the supplier Monday.

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