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Fire kills 21 at H&M's Bangladeshi factory

At least 21 workers died when a fire swept through a Bangladeshi factory making clothes for budget retailer H&M and other firms as they worked at night to fulfil orders.

The blaze at Garib & Garib Newaj -- which makes cardigans and jumpers for the fashion chain -- follows repeated concerns by a charity about fire safety at factories making garments for Western shops.

The fire started at about 9pm at the factory at Gazipur, 50km north of the capital Dhaka, trapping dozens of workers who were knitting jumpers. Fifty workers were hurt.

Eleven fire engines fought for more than two hours to bring the blaze under control.

Thirteen of the dead were women, according to doctors.

Clothing factories in Bangladesh are prone to fires as a result of poor safety standards. War On Want found poor safety at six factories supplying budget clothes lines for Primark, Asda and Tesco in a report in 2006, which alleged that the factories -- which it declined to identify for fear of reprisals against workers -- were missing fire extinguishers, emergency exits and fire alarms and did not practise fire drills.

According to reports from Bangladesh which could not be confirmed, the Garib & Garib factory had useless fire safety equipment. Another blaze happened there last August.

H&M said it had audited the factory, which specialised in knitted garments, as recently as October and found no "serious" fire safety problems.

"The findings we had at Garib & Garib on the last audit were two covered fire extinguishers but that was corrected immediately," the company said.

It described itself as a "small buyer" from the factory. The retailer added: "As far as we know this terrible accident was not caused by poor working conditions or safety measures."