Factory owners blamed for Bangladesh fire sent to prison

The 2012 fire killed 112 people in a factory that made clothing for big retailers including Walmart

A man with the Bangladeshi army walks through rows of burned sewing machines after a fire in the nine-story Tazreen Fashion factory in Savar, about 20 miles north of Dhaka, on Nov. 25, 2012.
AFP/Getty Images

The two owners of a Bangladesh garment factory who are facing homicide charges for a 2012 fire that killed 112 workers surrendered to a court Sunday, and were denied bail.

The factory outside the capital, Dhaka, produced clothing for big retailers including Walmart. It had no emergency exits and its location in a narrow alley prevented firefighters from responding quickly to the deadly blaze in November 2012, said prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul.

The case was the first time Bangladesh had sought to prosecute factory owners from the country’s lucrative garment industry – the world's second-largest after China.  The government is often seen as beholden to the industry, colluding with owners on wage and labor laws.

The investigation found that when the fire broke out, managers and security guards told workers it was part of a regular drill. By the time workers realized it was not, it was too late for many to escape. Workers found the gates locked from outside as the fire engulfed the sprawling building, according to the investigation.

Police filed homicide charges on Dec. 22 against 13 people in connection with the fire, including the owners of Tazreen Fashions Ltd., Delwar Hossain and his wife, Mahmuda Akter. Arrest warrants were issued Dec. 31 for six who police said had fled, including the two owners. The other four are still at large.

After Hossain and Akter surrendered Sunday, a Dhaka court rejected their bail petition and ordered them to be jailed pending further legal procedures.

If found guilty, they face a minimum of seven years and up to life in prison, Babul said.

The $22 billion export industry, which supplies many Western brands, came under scrutiny when a building that housed factories collapsed in April, five months after the Tazreen fire, killing more than 1,130 people.

The owner of that building, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested after a four-day hunt as he appeared to be trying to flee across the border to India.

In December, retailers agreed to set up a compensation fund for victims of the collapse, but critics say the country and retailers have not gone far enough in instituting new safety standards in factories.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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