Bangladesh garment factory fire kills at least four

A huge fire at a garment factory on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital killed at least four people Tuesday, emergency services said, in the country's latest industrial disaster.

The blaze at the Aswad Knit Composite factory engulfed a warehouse and two other buildings after starting at 6pm (1200 GMT).

"It's a massive fire. Ten fire brigade teams are working to put it out," local police chief Amir Hossain told AFP.

He said most of the 3,000 people who work at the factory had left before the fire broke out.

Safety standards at Bangladeshi 4,500 garment factories, where workers toil for 10-12 hours a day for low wages, are notoriously lax and fires are a common problem.

While local television channels reported that the blaze killed as many as 10 people, the local fire service chief, M. Akteruzzaman, told AFP that four people were confirmed dead.

"We could not control the fire. It has been raging for more than six hours," he said.

"There is an acute shortage of water in the area, which makes the job to control the fire very difficult."

Fire service director Mahbubur Rahman told AFP the blaze was allowed to spread because emergency services took more than an hour to reach the site, which is to the north of Dhaka.

"There is no fire station within a 3O kilometre (20 mile) radius of the factory," he said.

Poor factory safety standards were brought to the fore in November last year when a blaze at the Tazreen garment factory killed 111 workers, the country's worst factory fire.

And in April the Rana Plaza factory collapse killed 1,129, in the nation's worst industrial disaster.

Since then, protests over poor wages, benefits and working conditions have shaken the country's garment sector, the country's economic mainstay.

Thousands of Bangladesh garment workers walked off the job last month, blocking roads and attacking factories outside the capital and demanding a $100 minimum monthly wage.

Bangladesh is the world's second largest garment manufacturer after China, with the bulk of its $21.5 billion annual shipments going to top Western retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Inditex.

But the vast majority of the impoverished nation's three million workers earn a basic monthly wage of 3,000 taka ($38) -- among the lowest in the in the world -- following a tripartite deal between unions, the government and manufacturers in August 2010.