A Bangladesh garment factory producing clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney and other major Western companies lost its fire safety certification in June, five months before a blaze killed 112 workers, fire officials said today.
The owner of the Tazreen factory also admitted he received permission to build a three-storey facility but expanded it illegally to eight storeys and was adding a ninth at the time of the fire.
The revelations about the deadliest garment factory fire in Bangladeshi history provide insight into the chaotic nature of safety enforcement at the country’s more than 4,000 clothing factories.
The powerful industry is responsible for 80% of the South Asian nation’s exports.
A Dhaka fire official said the factory’s fire safety certification expired on June 30, and fire officials refused to renew it because the building did not have the proper safety arrangements.
The official would not provide details of the violations, saying: “I can’t explain more because the case is very sensitive and this is under investigation.”
The factory did not have any fire exits for its 1,400 workers, many of whom were trapped by the blaze.
Investigators have said the death toll would have been far lower if there had been even a single emergency exit. Fire extinguishers in the building were left unused, either because they didn’t work or workers did not know how to use them.
Delwar Hossain, the owner of the factory, said he was granted authorisation for only a three-storey building, but had added an extra five floors and had started construction on another.
When asked why, he responded: “My mental condition is not good, I am under pressure, please don’t ask me anything else.”
Safety inspectors and labour rights activists say major safety violations are common in garment factories, which continue to operate because powerful owners block efforts to shut them down.