The fire that killed more than 100 people at a Bangladesh factory which made clothes for retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was an act of sabotage, according to the government panel investigating the blaze.
There was no possibility last month’s fire at Tazreen Fashion Ltd.’s factory was caused by an electrical short-circuit and witness statements suggest sabotage, Mainuddin Khandaker, the panel’s chief, said by phone yesterday, without saying who could have been responsible. He blamed the factory owner for “gross negligence” as poor safety standards made it harder for workers to escape.
The Nov. 24 fire, the country’s deadliest at a garment plant, renewed pressure on local companies and international retailers sourcing cheap clothes from Bangladesh to improve labor conditions. More than 700 garment workers have died since 2005 in Bangladesh, according to the International Labor Rights Forum, a Washington-based advocacy group.
The government panel’s investigation believes the incident was the result of sabotage because it did not find any electricity connection or appliance in the area where the fire originated, Khandaker said. “The fire originated from the warehouse on the ground floor,” he said.
The findings of the report are “conflicting,” Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers Unity Forum union, said in a phone interview today.
“I don’t think it was sabotage,” she said. “Calling it an act of sabotage, the government is indicating some workers are responsible for the fire, so that they can be harassed.”
The factory had no emergency exits, and many workers were burned alive, as they got trapped in heavy smoke, Muhammad Mahboob, a director at the Fire Service and Civil Defence said after the fire. Delowar Hossain, managing director of Tazreen Fashion owner Tuba Group, didn’t answer two calls to his mobile phone today.
Fifty percent of the Bangladesh’s garment factories don’t meet required work safety standards and those that have improved working conditions have done so under pressure from Western apparel makers, Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a non-governmental organization, said in an interview last month.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has said it fired a supplier that made apparel at the factory without its authorization. Bangladesh’s labor law requires safety measures such as fire extinguishers and easily accessible exits at factories.
The global garment industry would have to spend about $3 billion over five years to bring safety standards at Bangladesh apparel factories to Western standards, according to an analysis provided by the Worker Rights Consortium. The $3 billion figure, or $600 million per year, represents about 3 percent of the $19 billion the Bangladesh Manufacturers & Exporters Association says Western companies spend annually on manufacturing in Bangladesh.