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Bangladesh factory owners to stand trial over deadly fire

By AFP   |   03 September 2015   |   9:23 am  

gavelA Bangladesh court on Thursday ordered two garment factory owners and 11 others stand trial for causing the death of 111 workers, almost three years after the country’s worst industrial fire.

Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter were formally charged over the blaze that tore through the Tazreen factory on Dhaka’s outskirts, trapping workers who stitched clothes for Western retailers.

“The court charged the 13 including Delwar and his wife with causing death by negligence,” prosecutor Khandakar Abdul Mannan said outside the district court in Dhaka.

“The judge ordered a trial from October 1 when witness testimonies will be recorded,” Mannan told AFP.

The November 2012 fire shone an international spotlight on appalling safety and other conditions in Bangladesh’s $25 billion garment industry.

But the disaster was followed by an even bigger tragedy less than 12 months later, when the nine-storey Rana Plaza garment complex collapsed killing 1,138 people.

Mannan said the 13 charged, who also include factory managers and security guards, face a maximum of ten years in jail if convicted of their roles in the fire.

Eight of those charged, including the owners, were present in court on Thursday, while the five others were still on the run, he said.

Deadly accidents are common in Bangladesh’s 4,500 garment factories, which are a mainstay of the impoverished country’s economy.

But factory owners, who are often powerful players in Bangladesh business and politically connected, rarely face charges.

Tazreen, in the Ashulia industrial district, supplied clothes to a variety of international brands including US giant Walmart, Dutch retailer C&A and ENYCE, a label owned by US rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs.

Victims of the fire, mostly women who were paid as little as $37 a month, found themselves overcome by smoke or were forced to jump from windows on upper floors, police have said.

Some managers and security guards insisted that workers return to their duties even though smoke was billowing from the ground floor where the fire started, according to a police investigation report.

The Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013 and other disasters prompted sweeping reforms including new safety inspections and higher wages in the industry, which employs around four million workers.



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