Dhaka factory lost fire certification months before blaze that killed 112

By Julhas Alam

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 7 2012 11:25 p.m. MST

Tazreen's owner, Delwar Hossain, said the government granted him authorization to construct a three-story factory. Nonetheless, he added five more floors and was constructing a ninth when the blaze broke out, he said late Thursday.

The construction is in direct violation of a law that requires advance written approval of factory construction and expansion.

When asked why he went ahead with the expansion anyway, he responded: "My mental condition is not good. I am under pressure. Please don't ask me anything else."

Hossain is a former accounts manager at a garment factory who started his own company, Tuba Textiles Mills Ltd., in 2004 and now has a dozen factories of his own.

Other factory owners hold parliamentary posts and other prestigious positions. In one sign of the industry's power, the government has dispatched a special police force just to maintain order in the factories.

The risky conditions at the Tazreen plant were known not only to government officials, but to major U.S. retailers whose products were made there.

Wal-Mart audited Tazreen in 2011, giving it an "orange" or high-risk rating. Months later it did a second audit, and early this year the factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for the retail giant. However, an AP reporter who visited the factory last week found Wal-Mart brands were still being made there. The company said a supplier — who has since been fired — had moved Wal-Mart production there without its knowledge.

Akter, the rights activist, estimates that more than half the nation's more than 4,000 garment factories have safety arrangements only on paper.

Factory owners "are very powerful, or backed by powerful associations and people," Akter said. She added that many inspectors are bribed to ignore violations.

In the two weeks since the blaze, the fire department has inspected 232 factories in the industrial area where Tazreen was located. It found that more than one-quarter of them — 64 — lacked fire safety licenses or safety measures such as fire extinguishers, water reservoirs and workers trained to fight a fire, said Dhaka fire chief M. Abdus Salam.

Those 64 factories will be shut down if they fail to address the issues within a month, Salam said.

In the meantime, they continue producing clothes.

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