Owners of a Bangladeshi garment factory surrendered to a court yesterday, more than a month after warrants for their arrest were issued over the country’s worst industrial fire that killed 111 workers.
Delwar Hossain and his wife, Mahmuda Akter, were charged and sought for arrest in December over a 2012 blaze that gutted the Tazreen factory where workers stitched clothes for Western retailers, including Walmart.
Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir said the couple handed themselves in to the magistrate’s court in Dhaka and were currently in custody awaiting a bail hearing.
“They have sought bail upon surrendering to the court. The court will hold a hearing on their bail prayers later today,” Kabir said.
Although warrants were issued on Dec. 31, police have not arrested Hossain and Akter, who have been living freely in Dhaka. It is unclear why they have now decided to give themselves up.
The pair are among 13 people — including factory managers and security guards — charged with arson, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and death by negligence over the tragedy.
All face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
The November 2012 fire — the country’s deadliest at a garment factory — highlighted appalling safety problems in the sector, a mainstay of the economy, where about four million workers toil for some of the lowest sector wages in the world.
Bangladesh suffered an even greater tragedy just months later in April when the Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapsed in Dhaka’s outskirts.
The fire killed 1,135 people in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.
Police have said it was possibly the first time an owner has been charged over a fire in the sector, where deadly accidents are common.
Manufacturers are hugely influential in Bangladesh, where some flout safety rules for the 4,500 garment factories, which account for up to 80 percent of the impoverished country’s exports.
Hossain, who since the tragedy has been barred from leaving the country, has been accused of breaching construction rules including building unsafe and narrow staircases in the nine-story building.
Victims of the fire, mostly women who were paid as little as US$37 a month, found themselves overcome by smoke or were forced to jump from windows on upper floors, police said.
Managers and security guards were charged over their insistence workers return to their duties even though smoke was billowing from the ground floor where the fire started, according to a police investigation report.
The factory, in the Ashulia industrial district, supplied clothes to a variety of international brands including US giant Walmart, Dutch retailer C&A and ENYCE, a label owned by US rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs.
The industry is the world’s second largest after China and factory owners — many of whom are also lawmakers and owners of banks and insurers — wield great influence in Bangladesh.