Rajina Aktar was sewing pockets into a pile of winter jackets bound for Europe when the fire’s toxic smoke knocked her out on a second-story floor.
In a pitch-dark panic that saw more than 350 people bolt for a single exit, someone carried the 15-year-old girl to safety. Eight others were trampled to death on the staircase, a few steps shy of daylight, in the Jan. 26 blaze at Smart Export Garments, an illegal factory on the outskirts of Bangaldesh’s capital.
Once again, foreign-brand labels were found among the burned-out wreckage, just as they had been in other episodes among a flurry of tragic fires that have set passions alight over the ugly underbelly of the country’s ready-made garment industry.
Garment making is the backbone of Bangladesh’s cash-strapped economy, accounting for annual exports worth $24.3 billion last year, about 80 percent of the country’s earnings. But the staggering frequency of lethal factory fires — which have claimed more than 500 lives since 2006 — shows that rising profits have not led to improvements in safety.