At least seven people have been killed in the blaze at Aswad Composite Mills

At least seven people have been killed in the blaze at Aswad Composite Mills

The safety of Bangladesh's textile and garment industry has been called into question again today (9 October) after at least seven people were killed in a fire at a fabric-making facility at Sreepur in the district of Gazipur, around 40km north of Dhaka.

More than 50 people were also injured in the blaze last night at Aswad Composite Mills Limited, part of the Palmal Group, which is said to have been making fabric for the George clothing label, owned by Asda/Walmart, along with H&M, Next, Gap, Primark, and Canadian retailers Loblaw and Hudson's Bay Company.

The fire originated in the dyeing section of the two-storey factory. Firefighters took several hours to extinguish the blaze and a probe into its cause are now underway.

Retailers contacted by just-style say they are also investigating, but there seems to be some confusion over the name of the facility where the tragedy occurred, with Aswad Knit Composite Factory (Unit 1) and Aswad Composite Mills Ltd (Unit 2), both mentioned. However, just-style has been assured that Aswad Composite Mills was involved.

Likewise, the retailers are keen to make the distinction that they had no direct contact with the factory even though its fabrics might have been used in their products.

"We are working to understand the facts and will take appropriate action based on our findings," according to a spokesperson at Walmart and George at Asda.

While Loblaw Companies said it is "confident we have not placed any product orders from the Aswad Composite Mills Ltd, where the fire took place," it added: "We have a 'no tolerance' policy with all our vendors when it comes to unauthorised outsourcing. We have seen documents that suggest there may have been such unauthorised production and we are investigating."

Likewise, fashion retailer Next is "awaiting further information from the scene and therefore cannot comment further at this time."

However, a statement added: "Marina Garments is a supplier to Next, who in turn sourced fabric from the Aswad Unit One Mill. As a result Next has had no direct contact with the Aswad mill.

"Prior to and since engaging Marina Garments a year ago, Next audited the factory, using its own in-house audit teams and no major issues have been found. However, because Aswad is a third-party fabric supplier to Marina Garments, it had not been inspected by Next."

Meanwhile, Swedish fashion retailer H&M said: "The tragic accident happened at a factory [Aswad Knit Composite Factory (Unit 1)] that does not produce garments for H&M.

"H&M works with a sister unit to the affected factory, called Aswad Composite Mills Ltd (Unit 2) and is approved for production by H&M.

"Aswad Knit Composite factory is a component factory. They make fabric and yarn for many different factories that produce garments. One of the factories that they deliver fabric to is Aswad Composite Mills. Hence, we don't have a direct business relationship with the affected factory."

Carrefour also says it is supplied by a number of factories in the Palmal Group, including Aswad Composite Mills 2, Ayesha Clothing Co Ltd and Palmal Knitwear Factory Ltd. It notes Aswad Composite Mills 2 is supplied with fabric from the burnt factory - Aswad Composite Mills 1.

And a spokesperson for Gap Inc confirmed the retailer works with the parent company, Palmal Group, and "on rare occasions in the past small quantities of Gap Inc. product have been made with fabric from the mill where the fire occurred."

According to a Primark spokesperson, the retailer "placed its last order in March of this year, indicating that it would place no further orders following the identification of violations of its code of conduct and management's unwillingness to resolve these to Primark's satisfaction. A small amount of outstanding orders was stored in the warehouse at the Aswad Composite Mills site, awaiting shipment."

Simarly, a spokesperson for Hudson's Bay Company said the retailer's last order "was placed with Aswad in October 2012 for delivery in April 2013. We had determined at that time that we would not be placing subsequent orders with Aswad."

A spokesperson for Target Australia said: "Target Australia does not have any direct contractual relationship with the Aswad Knit Composite Factory. However, one of Target's registered Bangladesh suppliers does source fabric from this factory for garment production."

Many of the retailers being linked with this latest factory disaster have signed up to two industry-wide initiatives aimed at improving standards at Bangladesh's garment factories - the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

An Aswad Composite Mills is listed among the nearly 1,600 factories used by the more than 90 leading fashion retailers and brands who are part of the Accord. But apparently this factory, located in Ashulia, is not the same as the burnt fabric facility, which is in Gazipur.

Primark notes that "incidents like this demonstrate the requirement for the Accord to be effective, and for all members to work in collaboration for sustainable change in Bangladesh."

However, as Next says: "As the cause of the fire is unknown, it is not clear whether any audit would have prevented this tragedy. Once the cause is known, as routine Next will review its procedures, including the extent to which it needs to look further down the supply chain - particularly in high risk areas such as Bangladesh."

The fire is Bangladesh's biggest garment industry disaster since the Rana Plaza building collapsed in April killing 1,132 garment workers, and the Tazreen Fashions fire where 112 workers died last November.

"This latest tragedy highlights how much still needs to be done to make the Bangladesh garment industry safe," said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign.

"The signing of the Accord was a huge step forward, but this tragedy underlines the need for inspections and renovations to get underway as a matter of urgency.

"We urge all those connected to the factory to work together to provide compensation, lost wages and medical treatment to those families and individuals affected by this fire."

Bangladesh is the world's second largest apparel manufacturer after China, with the bulk of its US$21.51bn annual shipments going to top western retailers such as Walmart, H&M, Tesco, Carrefour and Inditex.

With additional reporting by Katie Smith and Siddique Islam.