An investigation into the fire that killed more than 100 workers at a Bangladesh garment factory has found that it was an act of sabotage and that managers at the plant prevented victims from escaping.
Main Uddin Khandaker, who conducted the inquiry, told the AFP news agency on Monday that the owner of the factory, Delwar Hossain should face murder charges for “gross negligence and unpardonable crime”.
“We have suggested legal action against him and nine of his mid-level managers who barred the workers from leaving the burning factory,” he said.
The Tazreen factory fire was the most fatal Bangladesh has seen. The factory, located on the outskirts of Dhaka, was supplying clothes to a variety of international brands including US giant Walmart, Dutch retailer C&A and ENYCE, a label owned by US rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Khandaker said: “There was no possibility of the fire originating due to an electric short-circuit or any other reason,” without suggesting who might have triggered the fire or why.
He said the fire in the middle of the factory warehouse in the ground floor was initially small when it broke out on the night of November 24.
“But there was no attempt to douse it. We suggested that the government set up a taskforce to find out the people responsible for this heinous act.”
The owner told reporters after the blaze that he believed it was started deliberately but gave no details.
Faulty fire exits
The victims of the fire were mostly women who were on a salary of $37 a month. They found themselves overcome and suffocating with smoke of the blaze before attempting to jump from elevated windows.
Abdus Salam, a member of the inquiry committee, told AFP that the building lacked proper fire exits on the upper floors.
“All fire exits led to the ground floor. The staircases were not enclosed or separated, which allowed the smoke to easily spread to the upper floors,” Salam said.
“The workers were trapped or just had to jump from the upper floors. Still the casualties would have been much less had the supervisors allowed the workers to leave the factory when the fire broke out.”
Fire investigators had earlier said the nine-storey factory lacked a valid safety licence at the time and only had permission for three floors.
Bangladesh’s 4,500 garment factories account for 40 per cent of the country’s industrial workforce.
Around 700 people have been killed in fires in garment factories since 2006.