independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Factory boss 'unaware of exit need'

Hundreds of Bangladeshi mourners watch as the bodies of some of the victims of Saturday's fire in a garment factory are buried in Dhaka (AP)

The owner of a Bangladesh clothing factory where a fire killed 112 people has said he never realised it was supposed to have a special emergency exit.

The factory in a Dhaka suburb was making clothes for Wal-Mart, Sears, Disney and other global retailers. Fire officials said the death toll from the blaze last weekend would have been much lower if it had had an emergency exit.

Factory owner Delwar Hossain was quoted on Thursday as telling The Daily Star newspaper: "It was my fault. But nobody told me that there was no emergency exit, which could be made accessible from outside. Nobody even advised me to install one like that, apart from the existing ones."

He added: "I could have done it. But nobody ever suggested that I do it."

Activists in the South Asian country hope the tragedy will invigorate their lengthy - but fruitless - efforts to upgrade safety standards and force stronger government oversight of the powerful industry.

When the fire broke out at the Tazreen Fashions factory, many of its 1,400 workers were trapped inside the eight-storey building because exit doors were locked. An Associate Press reporter who visited the damaged factory found three stairways but no special fire exits.

Mr Hossain, a former accounts manager at another garment factory, set up his own clothing business, Tuba Textiles Mills, in 2004. The Tazreen factory was one of a dozen owned by his company.

Iqbal Habib, an architect and an activist, said fire exits were mandatory in such factories. He blamed government agencies, and the local industry trade group, for not ensuring the building was up to the proper standards. "This is not acceptable. This is a serious issue. We must deal with such things seriously," he said.

Nazma Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Combined Garment Workers Federation trade union, called for the arrest of the factory's owners and management to send a message to the industry as a whole. "There should be a criminal case against them. It could stop the recurrence of such incidents," he said.

Labour Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju said factories without emergency exits - or with only one such exit - will be forced to close until they upgrade their safety infrastructure. It was not clear when and how that directive will be enforced.

Press Association

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