A Bangladeshi garment factory owner and his wife are facing “culpable homicide” charges because of alleged gross negligence prior to a 2012 fire that killed 112 people. Delwar Hossain, owner and managing director of Tazreen Fashions Ltd., and his wife, Mahmuda Akther, chairwoman of the company, are among six people whom a Bangladeshi judicial magistrate recently issued arrest warrants for in connection with the blaze, which occurred in November of 2012.
In all, 13 people – all officials for Tazreen – face homicide charges following a criminal investigation that found safety measures were ignored at the factory, which primarily produced clothes for Western clothing brands and retailers. Many of the workers who perished in the blaze at the multi-story building on the outskirts of Dhaka did so because supervisors ordered workers back to their stations, even as alarms blared and smoke clouded staircases, authorities allege. The 13 accused officials could face life in prison if convicted on charges of breaching construction rules and failing to provide emergency exits.
After the arrest warrants were issued, Hossain expressed disbelief at being accused of homicide and vowed to prove himself innocent. “It saddened and astonished me to see that both my wife and I are the main accused,” he told Reuters. “I have the full respect for the law, and because of that I did not try to flee the country though I had a U.S. visa. I am not guilty and will try to prove it when the trial begins.”
Last year, a report from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association absolved Hossain of wrongdoing, but critics say that’s not much of a surprise in a nation where powerful garment industry leaders often escape without blame following factory accidents. Still, officials in Bangladesh have been under increased international scrutiny to better protect workers in the wake of Tazreen and other high-profile catastrophes, including the April 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 people. “Systemic changes are needed to root out the chronic problems plaguing the industry,” said Aron Cramer, CEO of BSR, a global nonprofit business network dedicated to sustainability.
Ready-made garments make up about 80% of Bangladesh's $24 billion in annual exports. Despite bad international press of late, the nation's ready-made garments exports rose by 20% during the first half of financial year 2013-14, according to the Export Promotion Bureau.