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Protests Demand Action in Bangladesh

In a day-long strike in Dhaka, processions of the left-leaning parties went through the city demanding less cronyism in politics.

In a day-long strike in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Tuesday, processions of the left-leaning parties went through the city demanding less cronyism in politics, with one of the main topics being the arrest and punishment of the owner of Tazreen Fashions Ltd. following a report submitted to the government on Monday.

More than 111 workers were killed in a fire at the factory on Nov. 24. Tazreen Fashions manufactured garments for several global companies at the time, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Li & Fung and German mass-retailer C&A.

This story first appeared in the December 19, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The report has given greater credibility to demands from many political groups that the owner of Tazreen Fashions, Delowar Hossain, be brought to justice. “This is unpardonable negligence and the owner is primarily responsible for the deaths of so many workers,” said Main Uddin Khandaker, the chief of the investigation committee.

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The four-member committee, which submitted its report to the government on Monday, stated that nine other officials at the factory were responsible for not allowing workers to leave the premises despite knowing there was a fire. The report confirms what Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said soon after the incident, that it was suspected sabotage of the factory that led to the disaster.

But political rights groups who have been working to improve the lot of garment workers are not convinced.

“An independent body should investigate the incident,” argued Sultana Kamal, executive director of Ain o Shalish Kendra, or ASK, which is a legal aid and human rights organization established in 1986, in Bangladesh. She said that the report echoed the “views of the government.”

Chief investigator Khandaker said in his report that the incident could not be due to an electric short circuit, as there was “no electric wire near the place.” Laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the factory owner, the report recommended legal action against him on charges of “extreme negligence and unpardonable crime.” The committee also recommends that an inquiry be made by a separate investigation committee into the sabotage.

The incident has caused an uproar among garment workers in Bangladesh, who say that they have become increasingly fearful of the unsafe working conditions at the factories even while international brands have been looking to Bangladesh for more sourcing the past few years. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of ready-made garments in the world, after China.

Among the violations was that collapsible gates were closed to stop workers from leaving the premises. Other fire safety measures were not followed by the factory, including an improper escape plan or a fire safety certificate.

Several other agencies are conducting their own investigations into the tragedy. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association is expected to release its report this week.

“We have to find the answer as to why factory managers restricted the workers to leave the factory floors even after the fire alarm rang,” said Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of the BGMEA.

The results of more investigations are expected soon, including one by the fire service and another by the Ministry of Labor and Employment.