Owners of the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh, where 112 people were killed in a 2012 fire, surrendered to a court and were sent to prison on Sunday. The factory produced clothing for large-retailers like Walmart and lacked basic safety measures for its workers. The building did not have emergency exits and was located in a narrow alley, making it hard for firefighters to access. An investigation of the fire revealed that managers and security guards misled workers, telling them it was routine drill and preventing them from exiting the factory in time. The two owners, Delowar Hossain and Mahmuda Akther, are awaiting trial for homicide and face seven years to life in prison. Bangladesh has the world's second-largest garment industry, and the state has previously protected the industry and supported factory owners. The case against the Tazreen owners is the first time Bandgladesh has prosecuted factory owners. The New York Times reports: Bangladesh’s garment industry is extraordinarily powerful, both economically and politically, and in the past the state has sought to protect their interests. Factory owners are rarely held responsible for safety violations. After the Tazreen fire, the police initially said they did not have enough evidence to bring a case against Mr. Hossain, and investigators suggested that the fire might have been set by saboteurs. But after activists and lawyers submitted a petition, the country’s High Court ordered officials to investigate further. The high-level government investigation that followed accused Mr. Hossain of “unpardonable negligence,” noting that some of his managers closed collapsible gates to block workers from running down staircases. The investigation also found that the factory lacked a mandatory closed-circuit television monitoring system, that none of the building’s fire extinguishers appeared to have been used and that the factory did not have a valid fire safety certificate.In the aftermath of the fire, some of the retailers that manufactured clothing in the Tazreen factory offered compensation to the families of victims. However, Walmart and Sears refused to attend a meeting with other retailers in April of 2013 to discuss compensation.
Sarah Berlin is an intern at In These Times.