Bangladesh Authorities Set New Precedent with Charges Against Factory Owners

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In a significant legal precedent, Bangladesh has charged 13 people, including the factory’s owners, the building engineer, managers and security guards, over the Nov. 2012 garment factory fire that killed 112 people.

The Tazreen garment factory, located just outside of Dhaka, had no emergency exits, trapping workers inside and forcing some to jump out of windows in the eight-story building.  

A.K.M. Mohsinuzzaman Khan, police investigator in the case, said it was “possibly the first time” a garment plant owner has been charged over a fire,” according to ABC News. “Fire alarms rang as soon as the blaze broke out. Panicked workers tried to leave the factory before the fire spread, but the managers and the security guards told the workers that it was nothing serious.”

If convicted, those charged with “culpable homocide not amounting to murder,” and “causing death by negligence,” could face a maximum sentence of life in prison or a minimum of seven years in jail, according to the Wall Street Journal. Golam Rabbani, lawyer of company owner Delwar Hossain, countered, “My client does not believe he is responsible for these deaths. No owner would allow his factory to burn down,” adding that his client would plead not guilty to the charges.[more]

The Tazreen fire was followed by the April collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex that killed more than 1,100 people, upping the international outcry over the egregious lack of building provisions and worker safety in the country’s $20 billion apparel industry that supplies clothing to primarily to western companies including Walmart and H&M.

“It’s good to know that the police are finally charging those who are responsible; this is something new in Bangladesh,” Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, said by phone, according to Bloomberg. “The prosecutors will have to make sure the factory owners do not find a way out of court by putting all the blame on managers.” 

No charges have been filed in the Rana Plaza disaster yet, though police are holding 21 people, including the owners of the building and the five factories housed within the complex.

The Bangladesh apparel industry—the second largest in the world after China—is a mainstay for the country with close to 4,500 factories employing more than four million people, mostly poor women. Activists and labor groups continue to pressure brands involved in the Tazreen fire and Rana Plaza collapse to compensate the victims. After Rana Plaza, global brands formed two separate action groups to oversee building inspections and worker safety.

The government did recently raise minimum wage for workers by 76 percent to $68 a month, but Bangladesh remains one of the lowest paid garment sectors in the world. 

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