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Tazreen Owners Jailed 14 Months After Deadly Fire

The owner of Tazreen Fashions Ltd. and his wife surrendered to the court in Dhaka on Sunday.

The owner of Tazreen Fashions Ltd. and his wife surrendered to the court in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Sunday as workers outside the courtroom called for them to be punished, seeking vindication for the 111 workers who were killed in the fire at the factory on Nov. 24, 2012.

This story first appeared in the February 10, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

After several investigations and reports by the authorities, the Dhaka court on Dec. 22 indicted 13 people for culpable homicide in the case of the fire. However, Delwar Hossain and his wife, Mahmuda Akter, who was chairwoman of the company, were among five people who went missing after the charges were made and arrest warrants were issued by the court on Dec. 31.

Senior Judicial Magistrate Tajul Islam denied bail to both on Sunday.

Workers have been demanding the arrest and death penalty for the couple since the fire broke out. Their anger against the employers and management of the company has been fueled by the fact that the exit gate was allegedly locked by company personnel, preventing an exit for the workers who were scrambling to escape the fire. Workers were forced to jump from the windows of the building, resulting in additional deaths and serious injuries.

The case is even more significant because of the interconnecting relationships between factory owners and politicians, trade union leaders have said repeatedly since the incident. This has made it difficult for factory owners to be indicted in earlier factory tragedies, even when there was clear evidence of negligence.

It is also noteworthy, according to analysts, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has been sworn in for a second term on Jan. 12 and is being watched carefully by industry leaders and workers to see what actions she takes to restore the reputation of Bangladesh’s textile and apparel industry.

It also comes on the heels of a statement by Human Rights Watch on Thursday that cautioned that employers continue to intimidate and threaten workers about forming trade unions. The organization called on the Bangladesh government to step in and stop garment factory owners from doing so.

“Workers interviewed claimed that some managers intimidate and mistreat employees involved in setting up unions, including threatening to kill them,” Human Rights Watch said. “Some union organizers said they were beaten up and others said they had lost their jobs or had been forced to resign. Factory owners sometimes used local gangsters to threaten or attack workers outside the workplace, including at their homes.”