Dhaka court orders arrest of owners for deadly factory fire

Updated 31 December 2013

Dhaka court orders arrest of owners for deadly factory fire

DHAKA: A Bangladesh court Tuesday ordered the arrest of owners of a garment factory where 111 workers were killed last year in the country’s worst such fire, after police laid charges.
The court in Dhaka issued the warrants for Delwar Hossain and his wife Mahmuda Akter and four others over the blaze that gutted the Tazreen factory where workers stitched clothes for Western retailers including Walmart.
Senior judicial magistrate Wasim Sheikh gave the order after declaring all six “fugitives” for failing to appear in court over charges laid by police earlier this month against 13 people over the tragedy, a prosecutor said.
The magistrate formally accepted the charges against the 13 including the owners, factory managers and security guards, who all face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
“Dhaka’s senior judicial magistrate Wasim Sheikh issued the warrants of arrest against the two fugitive owners ... and four other company officials for the Tazreen factory fire,” prosecutor Anwarul Kabir said.
“The owners and 11 others have been charged with arson, culpable homicide not amounting to murder and death by negligence,” Kabir said. Seven of those charged were in court or in custody.
The 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.
The country suffered an even greater tragedy just months later in April when the Rana Plaza garment factory complex collapsed in Dhaka’s outskirts, killing 1,135 people in one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.
The arrest order signals a toughening stand by local authorities against influential garment manufacturers, who openly flout safety rules for Bangladesh’s 4,500 garment factories, where deadly accidents are common.
Police last week said it was possibly the first time an owner has been charged over a fire in the sector, which accounts for up to 80 percent of the impoverished country’s exports.
Delwar 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.
Hossain, who is the managing director of the factory and his wife the chairperson, could not be contacted for comment despite several calls to his mobile phone numbers.
Victims of the November 2012 fire, mostly women who were paid as little as $37 a month, found themselves overcome by smoke or were forced to jump from windows on upper floors, police have 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.
Some of the retailers have refused to compensate some 200 workers injured in the fire and families of workers killed, arguing that their orders to suppliers for garments were illegally diverted to the Tazreen factory.
Despite the charges and the arrest warrants, unions said it was unlikely the owners would face tough punishment, predicting that the case would drag on for years.
The industry is the world’s second largest after China and factory owners themselves — many of whom are also lawmakers and owners of banks and insurers — wield great influence in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh pledged to clean up the industry after the Rana Plaza disaster and more than 100 top Western retailers have signed up to new safety agreements to allow greater scrutiny of their operations.
The government last month raised minimum wages for workers by 76 percent and launched inspections of factories in the wake of mounting criticism that authorities were failing to improve the sector.
The new minimum wage of $68 a month still makes Bangladesh one of the lowest paid garment sectors in the world, according to activists.


New virus cases in China fall for 2nd day, deaths top 2,000

In this picture taken on February 14, 2020, a Malaysia Airlines hostess (R) wearing a protective face mask checks the temperature of a Chinese passenger before she boards a flight to Beijing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)
Updated 33 min 47 sec ago

New virus cases in China fall for 2nd day, deaths top 2,000

  • China may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading

BEIJING: New virus cases in China continued to fall Wednesday, with 1,749 new infections and 136 new deaths announced after China’s leader said disease prevention and control was at “a critical time.”
The much-criticized quarantine of a cruise ship in Japan to avoid spreading the virus ends later in the day. The 542 cases on the ship were the most in any place outside of China and medical experts have called the quarantine a failure.
The updated figures on the COVID-19 illness for mainland China bring the total for cases to 74,185 and deaths to 2,004. New cases have fallen to under 2,000 daily for the past two days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the efforts to control the outbreak in a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described in state media.
Separately, the UN secretary-general told The Associated Press that the virus outbreak “is not out of control but it is a very dangerous situation.” Antonio Guterres said in an interview in Lahore, Pakistan, that “the risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.”
China has locked down several cities in central Hubei province where the outbreak hit hardest, halting nearly all transportation and movement except for the quarantine efforts, medical care and delivery of food and basic necessities.
China also may postpone its biggest political meeting of the year, the annual congress due to start in March, to avoid having people travel to Beijing while the virus is still spreading. One of the automotive industry’s biggest events, China’s biannual auto show, was postponed, and many sports and entertainment events have been delayed or canceled.
Many countries set up border screenings and airlines canceled flights to and from China to prevent further spread of the disease, which has been detected in around two dozen countries and caused almost 1,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Five deaths have been reported outside the mainland, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France.
The largest number of cases outside China is the 542 on the Diamond Princess at a port near Tokyo.
South Korea evacuated six South Koreans and a Japanese family member from the ship, and they began an additional 14-day quarantine Wednesday. More than 300 American passengers were evacuated earlier and are quarantined in the United States, including at least 14 who had tested positive for the virus.
On Tuesday, the US government said the more than 100 American passengers who stayed on the ship or were hospitalized in Japan would have to wait for another two weeks before they could return to the US
The US also upgraded its travel advisory for China to Level 4, telling its citizens not to travel to anywhere in the country and advising those currently in China to attempt to depart by commercial means.
“In the event that the situation further deteriorates, the ability of the US Embassy and Consulates to provide assistance to US nationals within China may be limited. The United States is not offering chartered evacuation flights from China,” the notice said.
“We strongly urge US citizens remaining in China to stay home as much as possible and limit contact with others, including large gatherings. Consider stocking up on food and other supplies to limit movement outside the home,” the notice said. The US previously flew out scores of its citizens on charter flights from Wuhan but does not have any further plans to do so, it said.
Despite, such warnings, the capital Beijing was showing signs of coming back to life this week, with road traffic at around a quarter of usual up from virtually nothing a week ago. While most restaurants, stores and office buildings remained closed, others had reopened. People entering were required to have their temperatures taken and register their contact information.