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Bangladesh factory fire was act of sabotage, committee finds

Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2012

  By Emily Alpert

The deadly factory fire that claimed more than 100 lives last month in Bangladesh was an act of sabotage, not an accident, the head of a government committee said Monday.

The investigation found electrical shorts had not caused the fire, though it remained unclear exactly who was behind the crime and how it was carried out.

Inquiry leader Mainuddin Khandaker told the Associated Press that committee members believe that workers at the factory were involved in the fire. The committee recommended further investigation to identify the culprits.

The finding echoes claims made by the factory owner immediately after the blaze, which focused new attention on dire working conditions in Bangladesh's rapidly growing garment sector.

But the inquiry did not exonerate the owner of the Tazreen Fashions factory. No matter how the fire began, owner Delwar Hossain is still to blame for "serious negligence," Khandaker said.

The eight-story building lacked emergency exits. When the fire broke out, workers reportedly tried to flee but found themselves trapped by locked gates. Three managers were arrested last month on suspicion of stopping workers from escaping; Khandaker said the committee believes more should face charges.

"We have suggested legal action against [Hossain] and nine of his mid-level managers who barred the workers from leaving the burning factory," Khandaker told Agence France-Presse.

The Nov. 24 disaster outside Dhaka has cast new light on the dangers in the Bangladeshi garment industry. More than 700 workers have died in factory fires in the nation in the last decade, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign in Amsterdam.

The few regulations that exist are not enforced, leaving many Bangladeshi factories with dangerous wiring, said Katie Quan, associate chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

"The threat is so high. Everybody knows about it. Hundreds of people have been killed," Quan said. "Given the well-known problems, any violation of health and safety standards could be considered sabotage."

The disaster has also cast an unflattering spotlight on Western companies that rely on Bangladeshi labor to cut costs. Tazreen produced clothing for Western companies, though several have said their suppliers were using the factory without their knowledge.

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