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Arrest ordered for blaze factory owner

Bangladesh court takes action over death of 112 workers last year

Arrest ordered for blaze factory owner

Demonstrators pretend to be dead during a protest over the Tazreen fire in November 2012. Dhaka, Bangladesh (STR / AFP) reporter, Dhaka

May 20, 2013

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Dhaka’s High Court on Sunday ordered the arrest of a garment factory owner for his “deliberate negligence” in a fire that killed 112 workers in November last year. The court emphasized that he must not be allowed to flee the country.

A government probe last year into the fire accused Delwar Hossain of inaction and negligence, but at the time no criminal charge was brought against him. Another inquiry conducted by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association claimed the accident was ‘sabotage’ and that Hossain was clean, but a petition filed on April 28 sought an arrest for the Tazreen Fashions Ltd chief’s inaction.

Babul Akhter, a labor leader in Dhaka, said the “culture of impunity” for employers after factory accidents has led to recurring accidents and deaths of workers, although three factory managers remain behind bars for blocking workers from fleeing the blaze.

“In past years, hundreds of workers have died in fire and building collapse accidents, but factory owners were never punished. Workers are poorly paid and can’t to go to court with complaints and justice is denied them,” Akhter said.

He added that had Hossain been arrested after the fire, the collapse of Rana Plaza building last month, which killed 1,127 workers, could have been avoided. “The factory owners at Rana Plaza wouldn’t have dared doing what they had been doing if stern action had been taken after the Tazreen fire.”

The High Court order could compel employers to care more for “workers' interests” if they want to do business, Akhter continued.

US clothing companies meanwhile continue to drag their feet over the signing of safety regulations that would improve standards in Bangladeshi factories. Gap has taken issue with the wording of new arbitration rules, while Walmart said it would conduct independent investigations into factory standards. Observers say however that the decisions might have more to do with fears that signing on would leave them open to possible legal action. 

About 2,000 workers have died in factory fires and collapses over the past 10 years in Bangladesh's garment industry, which is the second largest in the world after China, and produces clothes for leading international brands including Walmart, H&M, C&A, Gap and Tommy Hilfiger.

The industry accounts for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s export earnings, with about US$ 20 billion in annual shipments. But many factories are poorly constructed and lack safety measures. The minimum wage for garment workers, at US$ 38 per month, is among the lowest in the world. 

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