A court in Bangladesh has ordered 13 people – including two garment factory owners – to stand trial next month for the deaths of 112 workers who were killed in an industrial factory fire in 2012. Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter, owners of Dhaka’s Tazreen Fashions, have pleaded not guilty to culpable homicide charges. The accused now face an October 1 trial and up to 10 years in jail if convicted. “The court charged the 13 including Delwar and his wife with causing death by negligence,” said Khandakar Abdul Mannan, the prosecutor in the case.
The case is a landmark action in Bangladesh, as it marks the first time that garment factory owners have been prosecuted in the country’s history. A public outcry compelled Bangladeshi officials to charge Hossain and Akter, along with 11 factory managers and security guards, after investigators found the Tazreen factory had no emergency exits. The facility’s gates were also locked and workers were forced to jump from windows on upper floors as the fire spread, police have said. Many of the fire’s victims were women who were overcome by smoke.
Tazreen, which is located in the Ashulia industrial district, supplied clothes to brands like Walmart and Enyce, a label owned by rapper Sean Combs. Since the fire, Western brands have come under increased pressure to ensure safer conditions for Bangladesh’s four million garment workers, who generally earn less than $50 each month. Many retailers have helped fund safety improvements through a variety of alliances and agreements. The garment trade is Bangladesh’s largest industry, generating roughly $25 billion annually.
The Tazreen tragedy preceded the Rana Plaza collapse in April of 2013, which killed more than 1,130 people and further heightened international scrutiny. Following the Rana incident, Bangladesh’s High Court judges ordered the police to arrest the building’s owner, Sohel Rana, along with the owners of factories inside the building. Rana, who also faces murder charges, remains in jail pending his trial, which is likely to begin this year.