Uniqlo bans Bangladesh travel after Islamist killings

Tokyo (AFP) - The Japanese operator of fashion giant Uniqlo has banned non-essential travel to Bangladesh and ordered its staff there to stay at home, days after militant Islamists killed foreigners in a bloody siege.

Tokyo-based Fast Retailing, which operates Uniqlo, said it had told 10 Japanese employees not to leave their houses "until further notice", a company spokeswoman said.

The clothing giant added that it was cancelling all but vital travel to the South Asian country after 20 hostages were killed when heavily armed gunmen stormed an upmarket eatery in Dhaka.

Seven Japanese nationals who were involved in development projects with the government-run Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) were among those killed, as well as Italians, an Indian and a US citizen.

Fast Retailing has nine Grameen Uniqlo retail stores around Dhaka, where some of the employees work, and a production office, which coordinates with local producers, the spokeswoman said.

"We have taken necessary security procedures," she added.

"Obviously we are taking this situation seriously."

Uniqlo is one of about 240 Japanese firms with offices in Bangladesh.

Engineering conglomerate Toshiba said it has ordered staff to avoid non-essential travel to Bangladesh until July 10, a company spokesman said.

Toshiba, which said it had "a few" employees in Dhaka, had earlier warned staff against business trips outside the capital.

Several Japanese companies, including general contractors Obayashi and Shimizu, have also reportedly ordered employees in the country to stay at home.

Swedish fashion brand Hennes and Mauritz (H&M), which has a number of factories in Bangladesh, also warned against non-essential travel to the country following the attack.

"We recommend that any unnecessary travelling to Bangladesh is avoided," the clothing giant said Monday, adding they were following developments closely.

A spokesperson for Walmart said only that the US retail giant was monitoring the situation.

Although a quarter of its 160 million people still live below the poverty line, Bangladesh has clocked growth of around six percent nearly every year since the turn of the millennium.

That's largely thanks to garment exports, the lifeblood of its economy, accounting for more than 80 percent of total outbound goods last year.

Between them, the nation's clothing factories employ more than four million people, most of them impoverished rural women.

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