News / Asia

Bangladesh Factory Owner Was Unaware of Need for Fire Exits

A scarf of a garment worker in the burnt interior of Tazreen Fashions, Savar subdistrict, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov. 28, 2012.
A scarf of a garment worker in the burnt interior of Tazreen Fashions, Savar subdistrict, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov. 28, 2012.
VOA News
The owner of a Bangladeshi garment factory where 112 people were killed in a massive blaze says he did not know he had to install emergency exits in the building.
 
Delowar Hossain, the managing director of Tazreen Fashion, told the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, "nobody told me there was no emergency exit which could be made accessible from outside." He continued, "nobody even advised me to install one like that, apart from the existing ones."
 
Hundreds of workers were unable to get out of the Tazreen Fashion factory as the fire that began late Saturday burned. Fire officials say a lack of emergency exits contributed to the number of deaths.
 
On Wednesday, police arrested three factory officials amid allegations that managers told employees to return to work after fire alarms rang, and that locked doors trapped workers inside.
 
In his interview with The Daily Star published Thursday, factory owner Hossain said the fire "was my fault," but he also alleged that officials from the labor department had visited his factory several times but never raised the issue of emergency exits.
 
Garment workers and activists have staged nearly daily protests against factory conditions since Saturday's deadly blaze. On Thursday, at least 100 demonstrators dressed in white shrouds lay down on the streets of Dhaka outside the offices of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
 
An Associated Press reporter searching the ruins of the factory Wednesday found the charred remains of clothing bearing major American and European brands, including Walmart's Faded Glory and Teddy Smith, and brands owned by hip-hop star Sean Combs. There also were account books containing entries for orders to produce clothes for Disney, Sears and other Western companies.
 
Bangladesh has about 4,000 garment factories that make clothes for international brands. The country earns about $20 billion annually from overseas clothing sales, roughly 80 percent of its exports.
 
Work conditions at the country's garment factories are notoriously poor. Officials say at least 500 people have died in Bangladesh in garment factory accidents and fires since 2006. Activists say plant owners are rarely prosecuted for poor safety conditions.
 
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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