Police charged the owners of a Bangladeshi garment factory and 11 employees with culpable homicide Sunday for alleged negligence leading to the death of 112 workers in a raging fire that engulfed the factory last year.
It was the first time Bangladeshi authorities had sought to prosecute factory owners in the world's second-largest garment industry. A series of recent deadly disasters — including the Nov. 24, 2012, fire and a factory collapse in April that killed more than 1,100 workers — exposed how harsh and often unsafe conditions can be for many of the country's 4 million workers providing clothing to major Western retailers.
Public Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul said the 13 people charged Sunday could face life in prison if convicted of failing to ensure safety at the sprawling Tazreen Fashions Ltd. 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.
Those charged include owners Delwar Hossain and his wife, Mahmuda Akter, as well as 11 factory managers, security guards and engineers, Babul said. A court will decide on Dec. 31 whether to accept the charges and allow a trial to proceed.
"The managers and security guards misguided the workers by saying that it was nothing but a part of a regular fire drill when the blaze broke out," Babul said. "So the workers went back to work after the fire alarm went off, but they got trapped as the mangers locked the gates."
Bangladesh is the world's second-largest garment manufacturer after China and earns more than $20 billion a year from exports, mainly to the United States and Europe.