DHAKA, Bangladesh -- In the latest blow to Bangladesh's garment industry, seven workers died Saturday after a fire swept through a factory here not long after seamstresses had returned from a lunch break. Workers said supervisors had locked one of the factory exits, forcing some people to jump out of windows to save their lives.
The fatal fire comes roughly two months after the blaze at the Tazreen Fashions factory left 112 workers dead and focused global attention on unsafe conditions in Bangladesh's garment industry. Tazreen Fashions, located just outside Dhaka, the capital, had been making clothing for some of the world's biggest brands and retailers, including Walmart.
In the aftermath of the Tazreen Fashions fire, political and industrial leaders in Bangladesh pledged to quickly improve fire safety and even conducted high-profile, nationwide inspections of many of the country's 5,000 clothing factories. And global brands promised they would not buy clothes from unsafe factories.
But Saturday's fire in a densely populated section of Dhaka is a grim reminder that the problems remain. The blaze erupted about 2 p.m. at Smart Garment Export, a small factory that employed about 300 people, most of them young women who were making sweaters and jackets. All seven of the dead workers were women.
Masudur Rahman Akand, a supervisor in the fire department, said the factory's workers were returning from lunch when the blaze erupted in a storage area. The factory was located on the second floor of a building, above a bakery, and it lacked proper exits and fire prevention equipment, Mr. Akand said.
"We did not find fire extinguishers," he said. "We did not find any safety measures."
With smoke filling the factory floor, workers apparently panicked. Mr. Akand said the seven workers who died either suffocated or were trampled by people trying to escape.
Eight other workers were hospitalized with injuries. Some of them told rescuers that many people could not quickly escape because one of the exits was blocked by a locked steel gate. Witnesses said people began jumping out of windows before the gate was unlocked.
Azizul Hoque, a police supervisor, said the investigation was continuing. "We do not know the reason or the source or the origin of the fire," he said.
It was unclear whether the Smart Garment factory was making clothing for international brands or retailers. Dhaka's industrial areas are filled with factories, large and small, that produce clothing for much of the Western world.
Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka, and Jim Yardley from New Delhi.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.