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Dhaka factory owners in custody after fatal fire

Judge remands pair over Tazreen Fashions blaze that killed 112

<p>Police accused the owners of 'unpardonable negligence' after the 2012 fire at Tazreen Fashions</p>

Police accused the owners of 'unpardonable negligence' after the 2012 fire at Tazreen Fashions

  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • February 10, 2014
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The owners of a Bangladesh garment factory in which 112 workers were killed by a fire in late 2012, were remanded in custody after surrendering to a Dhaka court on Sunday.

Judge Tazul Islam jailed Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akhter, the  owners of Tazreen Fashions Ltd, after rejecting their bail petition.

Last December, police charged 13 people including Hossain, Akhter, the factory managers and an engineer for culpable homicide and violating construction rules. A week later, the court issued arrest warrants.

If found guilty, they could face life imprisonment.

As Hossain and his wife surrendered to the court, about 500 workers demonstrated outside, calling for the death penalty for the couple.

Babul Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation says the Tazreen case might set an example in delivering justice for poor garment workers.

“We hope the court would deliver justice in the Tazreen case and end a culture of impunity that has always favored factory owners over workers,” said Akhter.

More than 1,000 employees were in the eight-story factory on the outskirts of Dhaka on November 24, 2012, when the building caught fire. The factory supplied clothes to major Western brands including Walmart, Gap and H&M.

When the fire started, the fire alarm sounded, but some factory managers told workers to continue work. Many workers who tried to escape found themselves trapped on smoke-filled staircases and behind locked doors.

Bangladesh’s US$20 billion garment industry is the second largest in the world after China, but notoriously infamous for poor labor practices and hazardous working conditions. In the past decade, about 2,000 workers have been killed in factory collapses and fires.

Less than six months after the Tazreen disaster the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed, killing 1,134 workers.

With the Bangladesh garment industry contributing 80 percent of the country’s export income, garment makers wield extraordinary economic and political power. Factory owners are often favored by the state and are rarely held responsible for violating safety rules.

In the Tazreen case, police initially said there was not enough evidence to charge Hossain and called the blaze “an act of sabotage.”

Following an outcry, the High Court ordered the government to re-investigate, leading police to accuse Hossain of "unpardonable negligence". Some of his managers allegedly closed gates to stop workers from running down staircases. Investigators also found serious safety faults, including faulty fire extinguishers and a forged fire safety certificate.

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