Sagar Chowdhury, p2

Sagar also explained how, when the fire started he was not at work. But his brother, Shamin, had been there. He tried to fight the fire with a fire extinguisher, but it wasn’t working properly and sprayed liquid over his face.

Fifteen years earlier, there had been no clothing industry in Bangladesh. But by 2000 clothes made up 76% of the country’s exports. Manufacturers from all over the world were taking advantage of the cheap labour in Bangladesh. Because the average worker was earning only $42US a month, companies like Tommy Hilfiger, Walmart, and Gap could get clothes made cheaply in Bangladesh. Nearly half of the clothes being made there were going to the United States.

Although there had been many fires before, the fire at Chowdhury Knitwears was the worst, and in the weeks that followed there were protests. The families of the workers who died in the fire demanded US$3,700 each in compensation—far more than is usually given in cases like this. In the end they got $1,945 each. However, the compensation only went to the families of 39 of the 52 victims. For religious reasons, the relatives of the other thirteen refused to allow the government to do an autopsy on the dead person’s body. So they got nothing.

There was an official government inquiry after the fire. It was decided that Chowdhury Knitwears was responsible for three reasons: because the workers had been locked in; because there were not enough fire extinguishers; and because the stairs leading down to the exit were much too steep.

One of the doctors who worked on the inquiry said afterward that the inquiry had been a waste of time. People always get excited about these things when they happen he said. But it means nothing. They soon forget all about it.

Talking about the fire, Muhammad Saidur Rehman, the owner of another factory said: “We consider the workers to be our slaves, and this belief is made all the easier by a supply of labour that is endlessly abundant.”

- information from: the New York Times, 01.04.15 (Barry Bearak)