Sweatshop Fire: Outrage in Bangladesh as Few Arrests are Made
Over a dozen western brands found among sweatshop rubble
Industrial workers from the Bangladesh garment industry continue to demand justice in the face of widespread abuse, as labels from leading western brands are found in the rubble of the record sweatshop fire that killed 112 workers on Saturday.
Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and jets of hot water from a water cannon to disperse the crowd of over 3,000 who gathered for a third day Wednesday in the streets just outside the capital of Dhaka, demanding justice for the fire victims and the arrest of the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory owner, a police official told Agence France-Presse.
In response to the uproar, police arrested three mid-level Tazreen managers on Wednesday following charges that they told panicked workers they had nothing to worry about when the fire started, AFP reports.
"Survivors told us they did not allow the workers to escape the fire, saying it was a routine fire drill," Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman told AFP. "There are also allegations that they even padlocked doors."
Though the factory owner, Delwar Hossain, was not among those arrested, he was questioned about alleged building rules violations after inspectors found the nine-story factory only had permission for three floors.
In the aftermath of the fire, major western brands including Walmart and Disney, have come under increased scrutiny. As evidence of the widespread complicity of the garment industry, the International Labor Rights Forum cites over a dozen other brand logos found on clothing and documents in the factory, including: Sean Combs' Enyce label, Ace, C&A, Dickies, Fashion Basics, Edinburgh Woolen Mill's brands P.G. Field and Country Rose, Hippo, Infinity Woman, Karl Rieker GMBH & Co., Kebo Raw, Kik, Piaza Italia, Soffe, and True Desire.
As evidence that the conditions within these factories are not unknown, AP reports, "Wal-Mart had received an audit deeming the factory 'high risk' last year," and allegedly suspended business with Tazreen. However, they claim, a supplier—who they've since stopped working with—subcontracted work to the factory anyway.
In response to the widespread protests, more than 100 factories in the Ashulia industrial area declared an impromptu holiday for the day, fearing the protests could grow into large-scale industrial unrest.
About 1,400 people worked at the Tazreen plant, 70 percent of whom are women. According to AP, of the 112 who died in Saturday's blaze, 53 were burned so badly they could not be identified and were buried anonymously.
The ILRF is calling for an independent investigation of the fire and demanding "full and fair compensation to be paid to injured workers and to the families of the deceased; and effective action from all parties involved to prevent future tragedies."
The nation observed a day of national mourning on Tuesday in recognition of the worst factory fire to hit Bangladesh's garment industry.