A Bangladeshi garment factory that was producing clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney and other major Western companies had lost its fire safety certification in June, five months before a blaze in the facility killed 112 workers, a fire official told The Associated Press.
Separately, the owner of the Tazreen factory told AP that he had only received permission to build a three-story facility but had expanded it illegally to eight stories and was adding a ninth at the time of the blaze.
The revelations about the deadliest garment fire in Bangladeshi history provide insight into the chaotic nature of safety enforcement at the country’s more than 4,000 garment factories. The powerful garment industry is responsible for 80 percent of the South Asian nation’s exports.
A Dhaka fire official said the Tazreen factory’s fire safety certification had expired on June 30, and fire officials refused to renew it because the building did not have the proper safety arrangements. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, wouldn’t provide details of the violations.
“I can’t explain more because the case is very sensitive and this is under investigation,” the official said.
The factory did not have any fire exits for its 1,400 workers, many of whom became 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 didn’t know how to use them.
Delwar Hossain, the owner of the factory, told AP that he had been granted authorization for only a three-story 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 labor rights activists say major safety violations are common in garment factories, which continue to operate because their powerful owners block efforts to shut them down.