Workers are suspected of causing a fire that engulfed one of Bangladesh’s biggest garment factories which produces clothing for well-known retailers including Gap and Walmart.
Fifteen trucks carrying garments were also reportedly set ablaze by angry workers who reportedly had a dispute with the company and their poor working conditions.
The factory was among the ten biggest in the country, said Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of industry body the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, adding that the destruction could cost workers their jobs.
“Now all the workers are at risk of becoming jobless,” he said.
As many as 18,000 people worked at the factory, its owner, Mosharraf Hossain, told Reuters.
“We were the biggest supplier of Gap in Bangladesh,” Nur-e-Alam, a senior manager of factory owner Standard Group, told Reuters. “Our cargoes were ready for shipment and all that was burnt up.”
The nation’s £12-billion industry has come under increasing scrutiny since the Rana Plaza factory fire in 2012 that killed over 1,100 people who toiled for poverty wages.
Bangladeshi labor activist Kalpona Akter recently told author and radio host Sonali Kolhatkar, “We need these [factory] jobs. But we want these jobs with dignity… with safe working conditions, decent wages, and a voice in the workplace, and a unionized work place.”
Bangladeshi garment workers’ minimum wage was, up until this weekend, 3,000 takas, or less than £25 a month.
But millions of garment workers–key players in a supply chain that produces inexpensive clothing for Western retailers got a pay raise over the weekend, as a new government-mandated minimum wage of around £40 a month kicked in.
That puts Bangladesh into roughly the same league as other low-cost apparel exporters such as India, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. But factory owners here said the increase risks making the industry, a mainstay of the impoverished country’s economy, less competitive.