NEW DELHI — More than a year after the devastating factory fire that killed 113 garment workers at Tazreen Fashions Ltd. in Bangladesh, police on Sunday issued a charge sheet naming 13 people.
The information has been presented before a judicial court in Dhaka, which will follow up on the charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, police officials told WWD.
The charge sheet named Tazreen Fashions Ltd. managing director Delowar Hossain, his wife Mahmuda Akter, chairman of the company Mahmuda Akter, plus security guards, an engineer and the firm’s managers. The decision on the trial and the arrest warrants is expected to be made by the court on Dec. 31, added the police officials.
The fire, which ravaged the factory and also injured more than 100 people, has called world attention to the plight of Bangladesh’s 3.8 million garment workers. After the event that took place on Nov. 24, 2012, Tazreen has become symbolic of the condition of workers in the garment industry and the high-handed attitude of some factory owners and managers. Factory owners have said, as well, it has been a wake-up call for them to improve conditions and check their own management skills and the security situation of their facilities.
Meanwhile, union leaders and thousands of workers continue to call for justice for the workers and the arrest of Hossain.
Police officials told WWD that Hossain and his wife were liable for gross negligence for using the exit staircase area for storage and the fact that there was no fire exit at the factory. Officials said that while six of the accused were already out on bail and one was in custody, six of the others could not be located and were absconding. These include the chairman and the managing director of the company. Anisur Rahman, who was in charge of security at the factory, is currently in jail.
Meanwhile, the mood of somber indignation percolates among workers. On Nov. 24, victims of the fire joined hands with other garment workers, union leaders and non-governmental organizations in a procession to demand punishment for Tazreen’s owner.
“The punishment for him is essential because the owners need to know that they cannot always get away with treating workers in any way they choose. As it is, more than half the owners of garment factories are also politicians or have close links with them,” a worker from a large factory in Ashulia, a Dhaka suburb, told WWD.
Protestors also brought up a vibrant call for action, including an eight-point demand for better compensation for affected workers. They have called for more comprehensive lists of injured and missing workers, as well.
Many workers have sustained lifelong injuries from the fire, such as Shahanaz Begum, who said that a year after the incident she is still unable to walk and had lost an eye. Begum was one of the survivors who jumped out of a window, the only way to escape the flames as they consumed the factory.
Union leaders said today that those affected must be compensated better and that punishment must be exemplary because there have been a spate of smaller fires in garment factories around Dhaka over the last year. According to a report by the Asia Monitor Resource Centre, more than 500 workers have lost their lives in the past five years due to fires in various factories.
The additional shock of 1,133 deaths after the collapse of a nine-story building housing five garment factories in Savar has heightened the awareness of the need for safety among workers.
As the charge sheet has brought back the vivid sense of outrage and anger against Tazreen, the government’s response to the event is also being questioned, despite its launching an immediate investigation after the Tazreen fire. A 214-page report was published in December 2012, led by Additional Secretary of Home Ministry Main Uddin Khandaker, which said that the “owner’s unpardonable negligence is responsible for these appalling deaths.”
Garment union leaders in Dhaka have, meanwhile, been reiterating that the deaths of the 112 workers are “simple murder, not neglect” and call once again for justice and an immediate arrest of Hossain.
Yet government action will be limited, a former government minister told WWD, since Dhaka continues to be torn by violence, unrest and strikes as the country readies for elections on Jan. 5, 2014, in which the opposition parties will not participate.