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Bangladesh officials say owner should be charged in fatal fire

A fire in a garment factory last month on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed 112 people.

ABIR ABDULLAH/EPA/file

A fire in a garment factory last month on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed 112 people.

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Criminal charges for ‘‘unpardonable negligence’’ should be brought against the owner of the Bangladeshi garment factory where a fire last month killed 112 people, according to a preliminary report from a government inquiry submitted Monday.

‘‘The owner of the factory cannot be indemnified from the death of large numbers of workers from this fire,’’ said Main Uddin Khandaker, the official who led the inquiry. ‘‘Unpardonable negligence of the owner is responsible for the death of workers.’’

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The report also stated that the fire was ‘‘an act of sabotage’’ but did not provide any evidence of who, or say why someone might have committed arson at the factory.

The Nov. 24 fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory, where workers were making clothes for global retailers such as Walmart and Sears, has focused attention on the unsafe work conditions and low wages at many garment factories in Bangladesh, the number two exporter of apparel after China.

The Tazreen Fashions fire also has exposed flaws in the system that monitors the industry’s global supply chain,

Walmart and Sears say they had no idea their apparel was being made there.

Khandaker submitted a 214-page report to Bangladesh’s Home Ministry on Monday, saying that the factory owner, Delowar Hossain, and nine of his midlevel managers and supervisors prevented employees from leaving their sewing machines after a fire alarm sounded.

Hossain could not be reached for comment.

Some labor advocates found unconvincing the panel’s conclusion that the fire was deliberately set.

‘‘They don’t say who did it, they don’t say where in the factory it was done, they don’t say how they learned it,’’ said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a monitoring group based in Washington.

‘‘Regardless of what sparked the fire, it is clear that the unsafe nature of this factory and the actions taken by management once the fire started were the primary contributors to the horrendous death toll,’’ Nova said.

Bangladeshi officials have been under intense domestic and international pressure to investigate the blaze and to bring charges against those deemed responsible.

Families of the victims have demanded legal action against Hossain, the owner.

Labor advocates have argued that the global brands using the factory also shared in the responsibility for the tragedy.

Fires have been a persistent problem in Bangladesh’s garment industry for more than a decade, with hundreds of workers killed over the years.

Khandaker said his inquiry recommended the creation of a government task force to oversee regular inspections of factories and uphold the rights of workers.

Bangladesh has more than 4,500 garment factories, which employ more than 4 million workers, many of them young women.

The industry is crucial to the national economy as a source of employment and foreign currency.

Garments comprise about four-fifths of the country’s manufacturing exports, and the industry is expected to grow rapidly.

But Bangladesh’s manufacturing formula depends on keeping wages at rock bottom and restricting the labor rights of workers.

The minimum wage in the garment industry is $37 a month; unions are almost nonexistent; and garment workers have taken to the streets in recent years in sometimes violent protests over wages and work conditions.

On the night of the fire, more than 1,150 workers were inside the eight-story building, working overtime shifts to fill orders for various international brands.

Fire officials say the fire broke out in the open-air ground floor where large mounds of fabric and yarn were illegally stored; Bangladeshi law requires that such flammable materials be stored in an enclosed room with fireproof walls.

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