December 18, 2012 / 11:53 AM / 7 years ago

Bangladesh garment industry demands action on deadly fire report

DHAKA (Reuters) - Officials in Bangladesh’s ready made garment industry demanded on Tuesday quick implementation of recommendations in a report which concluded that last month’s deadly fire at a textile factory was the result of both sabotage and negligence.

Piles of clothes are seen alongside sewing machines in the Tazreen Fashions garment factory, where 112 workers died in a devastating fire last month, in Savar November 30, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

The investigators, who presented their report to the Home Ministry on Monday, did not single out any individual in connection with sabotage in the November 24 blaze at the Tazreen Fashion Factory in which 112 workers were killed.

But they called for legal action to be taken against the factory owner, identified as Delwar Hossein, and nine mid-level managers. Managers, the investigators said, had neglected fundamental safety precautions and failed to obtain a fire certificate.

“We demand the recommendations be implemented, meaning the owner and other culprits must be arrested and brought to book,” said Amirul Huque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation.

The inquiry committee, he said, had “categorically stated” that legal action be taken against the owner and his managers under provisions of the penal code providing for fines and imprisonment of up to five years.

Main Uddin Khandaker, the chief of the investigation committee, told Reuters that members had concluded the fire was a result of sabotage on the basis of witness accounts. There was no question, he said, of the blaze being linked to bad wiring.

“This is unpardonable negligence and the owner is primarily responsible for the deaths of so many workers,” Main said.

The committee recommended further investigation to identify who lay behind the sabotage at the factory in a Dhaka suburb.

Shamoly Akhter, 19, who worked on the second floor of the factory, told Reuters that two supervisors had prevented staff from leaving and told them to return to their work stations.

“The alarm was ringing continuously and we were struggling to get out ... but they said it was just a drill,” she said at a Dhaka hospital, where she was being treated for injuries sustained when she leapt from the burning building.

The main gate, the only entry and exit point of the factory, which made clothing for international retailers such as Wal-Mart and C&A, was also said to have been found locked just after the fire started.

After the blaze, both Wal-Mart and Sears Holdings Inc said their goods were being manufactured at the workshop though both had denied it authorization as a supplier.

The leader of the investigation also pointed to structural flaws and said building regulations were flouted. The factory occupied eight floors though permission had been given for only three.

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.

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.

International garment firms have demanded fast action to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi textile workers.

Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Ron Popeski

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