Factory Owner Jailed On Homicide Charges
Faces Life In Prison
In a landmark case, factory owner Delowar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akther have surrendered to authorities and now face culpable homicide charges in connection with a November 2012 fire that killed 112 workers in Bangladesh. Hossain and Akther, a director at the Tazreen garment factory, turned themselves in to a court in Dhaka this week.
While Akther was reportedly given one month conditional bail, Hossain’s plea for bail was denied, despite his attorney’s argument that neither he nor his wife were directly or indirectly responsible for the tragic blaze. Prosecutors, however, saw the situation differently, arguing that “unpardonable negligence” on the part of the couple and 11 of their associates, who also face homicide charges, resulted in the scores of deaths. “The responsibility for what occurred lies on them,” state prosecutor Anwarul Kabir told the court in Dhaka.
According to a government investigation, the factory lacked a closed-circuit television monitoring system that was required by law. The facility also didn’t have a valid fire safety certificate, and it appeared none of the building’s fire extinguishers had been used, officials have said. The investigation further revealed that managers allegedly shut collapsible gates to prevent workers from running down staircases.
If convicted, Hossain and the others accused face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Such a conviction would represent a sea change in Bangladesh, where garment factory owners, who wield extreme economic and political power, are rarely taken to task for safety violations. Initially, police said they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute Hossain, but lawyers and activists compelled Bangladesh’s High Court to conduct a deeper investigation, ultimately resulting in the charges.
One of the biggest apparel exporters in the world, Bangladesh’s garment industry is the lifeblood of the nation’s economy, employing about four million workers and selling billions of dollars of clothes to Western brands and companies, including apparel providers in the advertising specialty industry. Still, critics say the sector is rife with deplorable working conditions for laborers who toil for unlivable wages. Thousands have died in garment factory accidents, including more than 1,130 who perished in April last year when the Rana Plaza factory building in Savar collapsed. It was the deadliest catastrophe ever in the garment industry.