A deadly garment-factory blaze that killed at least 112 workers in Bangladesh was the work of saboteurs, said government officials on Wednesday as protestors took to the streets of the Dhaka suburb for the third day. Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, the South Asian country’s interior minister, said that a preliminary inquiry indicated that the Tazreen Fashions fire—Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster—was the result of arson. Police have arrested two people who were caught on closed-circuit TV footage trying to set fire to stockpiles of material in another factory, as well as three factory managers suspected of locking exit doors to prevent workers from leaving.
PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: Bangladesh Garment-Factory Fire Claims 112 Lives Because of Safety Issues
WHO’S TO BLAME?
The blaze has thrown a spotlight on Western brands and retailers that source clothes from Bangladesh, where wages can be as low as $37 a month for garment workers. As the world’s second-largest clothes exporter after China, garments make up 80 percent of Bangladesh’s $24 billion annual exports. Labor rights groups have repeatedly called upon U.S. and U.K. clothing firms to sign on to a workplace-safety program in the country, where standards are notoriously lax.
Brands that used the factory included Walmart’s Faded Glory, Disney, Sears, Li & Fung, and Enyce.
Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, said that a supplier had subcontracted Tazreen without its knowledge or authorization. One of the most senior figures in Bangladesh’s garment industry, however, isn’t completely sold on the company’s claim.
“I won’t believe Walmart entirely if they say they did not know of this at all. That is because even if I am subcontracted for a Walmart deal, those subcontracted factories still need to be certified by Walmart,” Annisul Huq, former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Reuters following a meeting of association members on Tuesday. “You can skirt rules for one or two odd times if it is for a very small quantity, but no decent quantity of work can be done without the client’s knowledge and permission.”
Several retailers, including Gap and Nike, swiftly denied any relationship with the facility. An Associated Press reporter searching through the wreckage of the factory on Wednesday found garments and documents linking the factory to Walmart’s Faded Glory label, along with items from Disney, Sears, Enyce (owned by hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs), and other Western brands.
Also listed on register books was Li & Fung, a Hong Kong-based buying house that is among the biggest suppliers of garment products from Bangladesh. The company published a statement on its website on Monday pledging to pay relatives of each victim $1,200.