Labor rights groups challenged some of the findings of a Bangladesh government panel that said a fire which killed more than 100 people at a clothing factory last month was an act of sabotage.
“I don’t think it was sabotage,” Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers Unity Forum union, said in a phone interview yesterday. “Calling it an act of sabotage, the government is indicating some workers are responsible for the fire, so that they can be harassed.”
Mainuddin Khandaker, the head of a government panel probing the incident, this week said that witness statements suggest sabotage caused the Nov. 24 blaze at Tazreen Fashion Ltd. The factory made clothes for retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and the fire renewed pressure on companies sourcing cheap clothes from Bangladesh to improve labor conditions.
The panel probing the incident has not said who was responsible for the sabotage. It also blamed the factory owner for “gross negligence” as poor safety standards made it harder for workers to escape.
The Bangladesh government often cites sabotage in the wake of factory accidents, strikes and other labor unrest, said Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a non-governmental organization founded by two former garment child workers to promote safer factories.
The panel investigating Tazreen believes the incident was the result of sabotage because it didn’t find any electricity connection or appliance in the area where the fire originated, Khandaker has said.
A copy of the panel’s report obtained by Bloomberg News described the fire as an act of “sabotage by an evil force.” The report also detailed missteps by the factory’s managers.
“The mid-level managers forced the workers to stay inside the factory, even after the fire alarm was set off,” it said. “They hid information about the fire from the workers.”
Some managers locked workers inside and left the building, according to the report. The report also cited Deepa Akter, a survivor, as saying that a factory manager told her “it was a fire drill. There’s no problem.”
Delowar Hossain, managing director of Tuba Group that owns Tazreen Fashion, hid information or gave conflicting information about the fire and deaths, according to the probe report. Hossain didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.
A report of sabotage rather than citations involving factories’ structural integrity deflects blame from garment industry and government officials that are supposed to be monitoring them, Ineke Zeldenrust, international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, said in a telephone interview from Amsterdam.
“It’s cheap to blame a person and put someone in jail,” said Zeldenrust, whose Amsterdam-based organization pushes for improved working conditions in the global garment industry. “It’s much more complicated and expensive to upgrade infrastructure.”
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, has said it fired a supplier that made apparel at the factory without its authorization.