A fire that gutted two buildings at one of the largest garment manufacturers in Bangladesh has been blamed on an arson attack - with apparel makers urging the government to catch the culprits within a week.

No casualties were reported in the blaze on Friday (29 November) that destroyed a ten-storey building operated by the Standard Group at Konabari in the Gazipur industrial belt near the capital Dhaka. The cost of the damage is estimated at more than BDT12bn (US$154.3m).

The incident is said to have been caused by angry workers, who have been protesting for several weeks for higher wages and better conditions.

Rumours that two workers had also been killed in clashes with police outside the factory prompted them to torch 31 vehicles inside the factory compound, 17 of which were fully loaded with garments.

Standard Group is one of the largest and most compliant garment manufacturers in Bangladesh with customers including American Eagle, Gap, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Kohl's, Sears, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Gymboree.

The group employs nearly 50,000 people in its 23 production units, and annually exports garment products worth nearly US$325m.

Immediately after the incident, the government formed a seven-member committee to investigate into the fire.

But leaders of the country's garment associations yesterday (1 December) issued the government with a one-week ultimatum to track down the arsonists.

They also urged the government and other stakeholders, including banks and insurance companies, for help in rebuilding the units, where around 19,000 workers are employed.

Earlier this month it was agreed that the minimum wage for Bangladesh's garment workers would rise by 77% to BDT5,300 (US$68.17) from December this year. But many workers are pushing for wages of BDT8114 (US$104.36) a month.

As well as protesting for higher pay, there are also concerns that political turmoil in the run-up to January's parliamentary election is also impacting Bangladesh's garment industry.