Lawyer Says Bangladesh Garment Factory Owners Not Liable for Fire

By JULHAS ALAM | February 11, 2014

The owner of a Bangladesh garment factory where more than 100 workers died in a fire is not liable for the disaster, and other workers could lose their jobs if he is convicted, his attorney said Monday.

Delwar Hossain, managing director of Tazreen Fashions Ltd., and his wife surrendered to authorities Sunday after being charged with culpable homicide in December. The case is the first of its kind against an owner in Bangladesh’s powerful garment industry, which has a huge influence in the country’s affairs from politics to sports.

The Tazreen factory, located outside the capital, Dhaka, produced clothing for major retailers including Wal-Mart. Investigators say it had no emergency exits and workers found the gates locked from the outside.

Defense lawyer A.T.M. Gous said in court Monday that his client made every arrangement to keep the factory safe. He also said Hossain continues to employ workers at other factories.

“If he is in jail, hundreds of workers will be jobless if those are not run properly,” Gous said. “He has done everything despite this disaster to stand by the families of the victims. He has given compensation to the victims. He is also sick and needs family care to stay well.”

Hossain was denied bail.

His wife, Mahmuda Akter, is the chairman of Tazreen Fashions Ltd. She also surrendered to authorities, but a court Monday allowed her to be freed for one month, as long as she follows conditions and cooperates with the court and investigators.

Prosecutors say the couple is responsible for the workers.

“They built the factory building violating building codes. They did not take adequate measures to keep it safe for working,” prosecutor Khandaker Abdul Mannan said.

The November 2012 fire is one of several deadly disasters that have exposed harsh and unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh’s garment industry. In April, a factory collapse killed more than 1,100 workers, triggering outcries at home and abroad.

Police filed homicide charges in December against 13 people, including Hossain and Akter, in connection with the fire. Police filed arrest warrants for six people they said fled.

Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest garment producing country after China, earns more than $20 billion a year from garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe.

Culpable homicide is a less serious charge than murder, but prosecutors say a conviction could still bring a life sentence.

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