(Company corrects to clarify amount of work sub-contracted by
Simco, paragraphs 15-17; corrects headline format)
* Tazreen Fashions was denied fire safety licence
* Inspections show other factories not complying
* Supply company named as Success Apparel
* Success says it was unaware of unauthorised use
By Serajul Quadir
DHAKA, Dec 11 The Bangladeshi factory producing
clothes for Wal-Mart Stores Inc before a November fire
that killed 112 workers was operating without a safety licence
and had been warned twice to improve conditions there, an
emergency services official said.
"We refused to renew the licence because there was a lack of
fire safety measures," Abu Nayeem Mohammad Shahidullah, director
general of the Fire Service and Civil Defence told Reuters in
Dhaka on Monday.
"The fire safety certification expired on June 30, but the
department did not renew it because fire safety provisions had
not been put in place," he said. He added that in July a
reminder had been sent to the management of the factory, which
is owned by the garments manufacturer Tuba Group.
An official at Tuba Group declined to comment on the status
of the licence at the time of the fire.
Mahbubur Rahman, a Fire Service and Civil Defence inspector
who visited the utility, said the factory managers "did not
respond to our notices and did not pay heed to our suggestions".
After the Nov. 24 blaze at the Tazreen Fashions factory in
an industrial suburb of the Bangladeshi capital, both Wal-Mart
and Sears Holdings Inc admitted that their goods were
being manufactured at the workshop even though both had
specifically denied it authorisation as a supplier.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said one of its
suppliers - now known to be Success Apparel, a company based in
New York City's Garment District - had subcontracted work to the
factory without authorisation and would no longer be used.
Wal-Mart has not confirmed the name of the supplier, but Success
has identified itself.
Success, in a statement, said it placed an order with an
approved Wal-Mart manufacturer, Simco Bangladesh Limited, and
only found out after the fire that the manufacturer had
sub-contracted to the parent company of Tazreen Fashions.
"We are saddened by this tragic event and want to clearly
state that Success was neither aware of nor in any way has
authorised the production of our garments in the factory where
this tragedy occurred," the company said. "This factory is not
on our matrix and we have never done business with them."
Shahidullah said that although it was strictly illegal for
Tazreen to continue production without a safety certificate, the
authorities had given it a reasonable period to comply after the
Bangladesh's garment industry, which accounts for 80 percent
of the country's $24 billion annual exports, has become the
mainstay of an economy that was once dependent on aid.
However, rights groups like the International Labor Rights
Forum say that low wages and sub-standard safety conditions
remain a problem among many of the country's roughly 3,000
apparel factories because end-buyers squeeze them for
rock-bottom production costs.
Shahidullah said an inspection of close to half of the 574
garment factories in the same area as Tazreen Fashions since the
blaze had found that 30 percent did not have fire-safety
licences, adequate fire extinguishers, hose pipes, water
supplies and workers trained in emergency procedures.
"Action will be taken against those inspectors who issued
licences without verifying the fire safety measures," he said.
Tazreen Fashions was producing clothes for Wal-Mart at the
time of the fire because Tuba - which owns several factories -
had been sub-contracted by Simco to handle 7 percent of an order
of 360,000 pieces.
Simco Chairman Muzaffar Siddique told Reuters that when his
company learnt that Tuba Group had diverted that work, 25,000
pieces, from its mother factory - which was certified under a
Walmart audit as compliant - to Tazreen Fashions, he sought to
have the fabric returned.
Simco received most of it back and was seeking assistance
from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters
Association (BGMEA) to get the rest of the work stopped.
A BGMEA vice-president, S.M. Mannan, confirmed that Simco
had sought the association's help with the order from Success
Apparel, and it had been trying to intervene when the disaster
(Additional reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago and Adam
Kerlin in New York; Writing by John Chalmers and Ben Berkowitz;
Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Michael Perry)