Panel calls Bangladesh factory fire sabotage, says owner should be tried

Story highlights

  • Panel: Further investigation is needed to pin down who started a clothing factory fire
  • 112 people, mostly women, died in the fire on the outskirts of Dhaka
  • The owner of the factory should be prosecuted for the lack of safety measures, the panel says
  • Factory owner Delwar Hossain has said he was not aware of the situation

Last month's deadly fire at a clothing factory on the outskirts of Bangladesh's capital was an "act of sabotage," a government committee of inquiry said Monday.

The panel also said the owner of the factory should be held responsible for gross negligence of safety and should face trial for the lack of safety measures that led to 112 deaths.

Most of the dead in the fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in Ashulia last month were women. Almost half of the dead were burned beyond recognition and were buried under government supervision after DNA samples were taken.

More than 200 people also were injured in the blaze.

"We're sure it was an act of sabotage, but it needs further investigation by an intelligence or police agency to ascertain who was behind this act of sabotage," said the head of the government committee, Main Uddin Khandaker, an additional secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

"The owner of the factory should be brought to justice, as we find that proper safety measures could have lessened the fatalities," he said after submitting the report to the home secretary.

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Factory owner Delwar Hossain could not be reached for comment Monday. He earlier admitted to local media that his factory lacked proper safety measures, but said he had not been aware of it.

    A couple of days after the November 24 fire, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also called it a "planned arson."

    Police have arrested three mid-level managers and sent them to jail for not allowing the workers to leave the building after the fire alarm went off. They told them "it was for a mock fire drill," officials said.

    The committee in its report recommended that the owner and at least nine other mid-level managers should be prosecuted under the Bangladesh Penal Code.

    The committee also recommended that the government form a "powerful task force" to ensure safety at garment factories and other facilities across the country.

    Ready-made garments make up 80% of Bangladesh's $24 billion in annual exports.

    The country has about 4,500 garment factories that make clothes for stores such as Tesco, Walmart, Teddy Smith, J.C. Penney, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Kohl's and Carrefour. The sector earned $19 billion last year.