Bangladesh Charges Garment Factory Owners for 2012 Blaze

Bangladesh police filed the first charges against the owners of a garment factory for a fire that killed more than 100 workers last year as the South Asian nation seeks to bolster its workplace safety image.

Delwar Hossain and his wife, owners of Tazreen Fashion Ltd., and the company’s engineer were among 13 people charged under two sections of the law including homicide, A.K.M. Mohsinuzzaman Khan, an inspector of police, said. If convicted, they could face a maximum punishment of life in prison or minimum seven years in jail, he said.

Two calls made to Hossain’s mobile phone seeking comment on the charges weren’t answered today.

A series of fires and the April crash of the Rana Plaza factory complex that killed more than 1,100 people has increased pressure on international retailers buying from Bangladesh and the government to improve workplace safety. The country’s $20 billion apparel industry, which supplies clothes to companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Hennes & Mauritz AB, is trying to rebuild its image after the building collapse, the country’s worst industrial disaster.

“It’s good to know that the police are finally charging those who are responsible; this is something new in Bangladesh,” Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, said by phone. “The prosecutors will have to make sure the factory owners do not find a way out of court by putting all the blame on managers.”

At least 124 people were killed in the blaze in November last year at Tazreen Fashion, which made clothes for companies including Hong Kong-based Li & Fung Ltd. The factory, in the outskirts of capital Dhaka, had no emergency exits and some workers were burnt alive as they were unable to get out, while some jumped out of the eight-story building to escape the flames.