Police in Bangladesh have charged the owners and 11 employees of Tazreen garment factory with culpable homicide, over a blaze in November last year that killed 112 people.
“Delwar and his wife Mahmuda Akter … and 11 others have been charged with death due to negligence,” police investigator A.K.M. Mohsinuzzaman Khan told AFP. According to the charge sheet, the owners flouted labor laws and constructed the building based on faulty planning and without any emergency exits on the outskirts of the sprawling capital, Dhaka.
Bangladesh’s garment industry is the world’s second largest after China, worth some $20 billion annually, and is the mainstay of its economy, accounting for almost 80% of national exports. But despite this key role, incidents like the one in Tazreen are all too common in an industry in which close to 4 million workers, mainly women, work in deplorable conditions for subsistence wages. Until now, prosecutions of factory owners have been rare.
However, the Tazreen factory fire, along with the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in April that killed more than 1,000 people, helped galvanize Bangladeshi workers into unprecedented street protests. This public outcry, along with international pressure, forced the government not only to take action against the owners but also to review working conditions, including a 76% increase in the minimum wage.
The filing of criminal charges is considered a small victory for the workers, many of whom are still fighting for compensation.
“During the big sales over Christmas, Human Rights Watch calls on brands that were sourcing from Tazreen Fashions to direct some of their profits to join an International Labour Organization effort to fund full and fair compensation to all injured and the families of those killed,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Monday.
The 13 accused face life in prison if found guilty.