DHAKA, Bangladesh – A Bangladesh court on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for two garment factory owners and four of their employees on homicide charges for the deaths of 112 workers in a fire that engulfed the factory in 2012.
It’s the first time Bangladesh has sought to prosecute factory owners in the lucrative garment industry, which is the world’s second largest after China. A series of deadly disasters – including the 2012 fire and a factory collapse in April that killed more than 1,100 workers – has exposed how harsh and unsafe working conditions are in the industry that employs 4 million Bangladeshis and provides clothing to major Western retailers.
Police filed homicide charges on Dec. 22 against 13 people, and the arrest warrants were issued for six who police say have fled.
Judge Wasim Sheikh issued the warrants for owner Delwar Hossain, his wife, Mahmuda Akter, and the others, Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul said.
If the six are not found by Feb. 25 when the court sits, they could be tried in absentia for the charges connected with the fire that destroyed the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory in November 2012.
A decision on when the trial would begin would be made after police inform the court on their attempts to find the six, Babul said.
He said the accused face a minimum of seven years in prison up to life in prison if convicted of failing to ensure safety at the sprawling factory, located outside Dhaka, the capital.
The factory, which produced clothing for global brands including Wal-Mart, had no emergency fire exits, while its location in a narrow alley meant firefighters were unable to reach the flames, Babul said, citing a police investigation.
The investigation said that managers and security guards told the workers that the blaze was part of a regular fire drill when it broke out.
Bangladesh earns more than $20 billion a year from garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe.