More than 600 workers have died since 2006, as keeping costs down in profitable industry often means compromising safety
Bangladesh has declared a national day of mourning following the Tazreen garment factory fire that led to the deaths of at least 110 workers in a blaze in the capital city, Dhaka, over the weekend.
Green and red national flags flew at half-mast on Tuesday alongside black flags over government offices and the country’s 4,500 garment factories.
Shortly before the first mass burials for the victims, police declared a manhunt to find Delwar Hossain, the fugitive boss of the factory.
Habibur Rahman, Dhaka police chief, told the AFP news agency that Hossain would be interrogated about alleged violations of building rules after inspectors found the nine-storey factory had permission for only three floors.
“We shall also quiz him about allegations from survivors that his managers did not allow the workers to leave the factory when the fire broke out,” Rahman said of the tragedy at the 12-storey Tazreen factory housing 1,000 employees, without access to emergency exits.
“As the smoke spread, the managers even told the workers that it was a fire drill, nothing to be afraid of.”
Rahman confirmed that a murder investigation was under way due to criminal negligence at Hossain’s Tazreen Fashion plant.
The developments in Bangladesh came a day after the US retail giant Walmart said it had ended its relationship with an unnamed supplier who sourced garments from the Tazreen factory.
The multinational company severed ties with its supplier as anger over safety standards in Bangladesh’s clothes manufacturing industry mounted. Bangladesh offers cheap labour to many Western apparel brands for manufacturing.
In a statement issued on Monday, Walmart expressed its condolences to the victims’ families and said: “The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.
“A supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorisation and in direct violation of our policies,
“The Tazreen factory was no longer authorised to produce merchandise for Walmart.
“Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier.”
C&A, a European high-street name, and the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung, which also procured orders at the Tazreen factory, have separately expressed condolences.
Prominent fashion brands are likely to distance themselves from the scandal which could spell an imminent PR disaster.