VANCOUVER – A major fire has destroyed a 10-story building at one of Bangladesh’s “top 10” garment factories and police believe it may have been deliberately set.
The fire broke out in the Standard Group factory in Gazipur, 47 kilometres north of the capital Dhaka, early Friday morning
According to Mohammed Atiqal Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the factory was closed at the time and no one was reported to be injured.
But the blaze will affect the jobs of approximately 18,000 people.
Islam confirmed the fire did not start because of poor building conditions, such as those that led to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on April 24 that left 1,135 people dead.
“We think it’s an act of arson committed by workers from both inside the factory complex and outside,” Mosharraf Hossain, a senior officer in the Industrial Police force, told Agence France Press (AFP).
AFP reported the fire started following protests at the site on Thursday, where workers were demanding higher wages and improved working conditions.
According to AFP, a rumour spread that police killed a garment worker while trying to break up the demonstration. Police denied that claim.
The Associated Press reported a loudspeaker at a nearby mosque broadcast a message that someone had been killed, prompting a crowd of protesters to return later Thursday night and set the building on fire.
The fire was brought under control, but crews worked throughout the day Friday to put out the flames.
Four other buildings in the complex were reportedly damaged as well 15 trucks loaded with garments, BBC reported.
According to the Standard Group’s website, a number of international brands had clothing manufactured at the factory including Sears, American Eagle, Gap, Uniqlo, Zara and Abercrombie & Fitch.
Global News made several attempts to contact Standard Group for comment on the fire, but an audible connection could not be established in time for publication.
Workers rights and labour conditions in Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing industry — the second biggest in the world after China — have been the focus of demonstrations since the Rana Plaza disaster.
Earlier this month, the Bangladeshi government approved a 77 per cent increase to the garment industry minimum wage, raising it from $36 USD a month to $68 a month. But, workers have been demanding the wage be raised to approximately $100 a month.
The garment manufacturing industry reportedly accounts for almost 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product.