(WASHINGTON) — The owner of the clothing factory in Bangladesh that was recently engulfed in a deadly inferno told a local newspaper that he is to blame for the deaths of more than 100 workers, but said he was never told that the facility didn’t have proper emergency exits.
“It was my fault,” Delowar Hossain said, according to Bangladesh’s The Daily Star. “But nobody told me that there was no emergency exit, which could be made accessible from outside. Nobody even advised me to install one like that, apart from the existing ones.”
“I could have done it,” he said, “but nobody ever suggested that I do it.”
Local labor officials visited the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory several times and no safety concerns were raised, Hossain said.
Hossain’s comments come hours after ABC News reported that several survivors of Saturday’s fire said they were locked in the building as the flames spread around them. The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights shared one worker’s account in which the man said collapsible gates had been pulled shut to prevent anyone from escaping even as word of the fire got around.
“We pleaded with [a manager] to let us out, but [he] assured us that nothing was wrong and we should keep working,” the witness said. “He told us not to listen to any rumors. He said again, ‘Nothing has happened, just keep working.'”
Kalpona Akter, a labor activist based in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka, spoke with a number of survivors who described a scene of horror as workers started to smell smoke, and then the power went out and they were thrown into darkness.
“Then they ran to the stairs and found it was already fire caught in the stairs,” she said. “They broke one window in the east side of the factory and … they started to jump.”
Authorities in Bangladesh announced three arrests, all supervisors from the factory, whom the police accused of negligence in their handling of the incident.
A journalist who attended the police press conference Wednesday told ABC News the three men were arrested “because they did not perform their duty” and prevented workers from escaping from the factory, instead of helping them get out.
Over the past several days, the names of the American brands that were apparently relying on the Tazreen factory to produce t-shirts, fleece, jeans and other garments have become more clear. Photos taken by workers showed labels for Wal-Mart’s private label, Faded Glory, in the burned-out remains along with articles for a clothing line by music mogul Sean Combs called ENYCE, and clothing by the workwear brand Dickies and Sears.
There were new reports Wednesday that clothing found in the burned-out remains included large quantities of sweatshirts with labels for Disney, the parent company of ABC News. Like Wal-Mart and Sears, Disney said the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory was not supposed to be making its clothes.
“None of our licensees have been permitted to manufacture Disney-branded products in this facility for at least the last 12 months,” a Disney statement read.
As with Disney, other retailers continue to question how their products could be found in a factory. Li & Fung, a Hong Kong supplier that works with several large brands, confirmed it was producing clothes in the factory for a Sean Combs label, ENYCE. But in a statement to ABC News Wednesday, Li & Fung said it had not brought clothes to the factory for any other client, including Sears, Disney and Wal-Mart.
Asked why it hired a factory that had been cited by at least one auditor for having safety problems, Li & Fung said it was investigating that question.
“As this tragic event is still under official investigation by the authorities, and since Li & Fung will conduct our own investigation, it would be premature to comment on our prior assessment of the factory’s compliance,” the statement said.
Li & Fung published a statement on its website earlier this week pledging to pay relatives of each victim $1,200. The Daily Star reported that Hossain, the factory owner, did not announce any planned compensation.
Scott Nova of the Worker Rights Consortium said Hossain’s admission is a “profound indictment” of how poorly the garment industry is policing labor practices in Bangladesh.
“They claim they are conducting regular inspections of these factories to assess worker safety issues,” he said. “They are obligated to tell him. He’s right that he is to blame for the deaths of more than 100 workers, but that blame is shared by the CEO of Wal-Mart, Disney, Sears, Li & Fung and one Sean Combs.”
Bangladesh’s interior minister, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, said Tuesday officials had concluded the fire was the result of sabotage, according to published reports.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN