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Bangla path-breaker fire case

Firefighters douse the flames in the garment factory on November 24, 2012

Dhaka, Dec. 22 (Agencies): Police charged the owners of a Bangladeshi garment factory and 11 employees with culpable homicide today for alleged negligence leading to the death of 112 workers in a raging fire that engulfed the factory last year.

It was the first time Bangladeshi authorities had sought to prosecute factory owners in the world’s second-largest garment industry.

A series of recent deadly disasters — including the November 24, 2012, fire and a factory collapse in April that killed more than 1,100 workers — exposed how harsh and often unsafe conditions can be for many of the country’s 4 million workers providing clothing to major western retailers.

Public prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul said the 13 people charged today could face life in prison if convicted of failing to ensure safety at the sprawling factory of Tazreen Fashions Ltd, located outside capital Dhaka.

The factory, which produced clothing for global brands including Wal-Mart, had no emergency fire exits, while its location in a narrow alley meant firefighters were unable to reach the flames, Babul said.

Those charged include owners Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter, as well as 11 factory managers, security guards and engineers, Babul said. A Dhaka magisterial court will decide on December 31 whether to accept the charges and allow a trial to proceed.

“Tazreen Fashions Ltd chairman Mahmuda Akter and managing director Delwar Hossain are among the 13 charged for (involuntary) manslaughter and deaths caused by negligence under the Code of Criminal Procedure,” a court official said.

Six members of the factory’s top brass, including the owners, are on the run. One of the accused is in custody and the others are out on bail.

“The managers and security guards misguided the workers by saying that it was nothing but a part of a regular fire drill when the blaze broke out,” the prosecutor said. “So the workers went back to work after the fire alarm went off, but they got trapped as the managers locked the gates.”

Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment manufacturer after China and earns more than $20 billion a year from exports, mainly to the US and Europe.

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