DHAKA, Bangladesh – The garment factory in Bangladesh where a weekend fire killed at least 112 people had been making clothes for Wal-Mart without the giant U.S. retailer’s knowledge, Wal-Mart said Monday.
In a statement, Wal-Mart said the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory was no longer authorized to produce merchandise for Wal-Mart, but that a supplier subcontracted work to it in direct violation of our policies.
Today, we have terminated the relationship with that supplier, America’s biggest retailer said. The fact that this occurred is extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work across the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.
The blaze Saturday was one of the deadliest fires of its kind in Bangladesh and threw a spotlight on the way the country’s garment factories often ignore safety in the rush to supply major retailers in the U.S. and Europe. More than 200 people have died over the past six years in garment factory fires in Bangladesh, including a blaze that killed 63 in 2006.
Survivors of the latest tragedy said that an exit door was locked, that fire extinguishers didn’t work and apparently were there just to impress inspectors, and that when the fire alarm went off, workers were told by their bosses to go back to their sewing machines. Victims were trapped or jumped to their deaths from the eight-story building, which had no emergency exits.
On Monday, about 15,000 Bangladeshi workers protested blocks from the gutted building in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, demanding justice for the victims and improved safety. About 200 factories were closed for the day after the protest erupted. Demonstrators blocked a major highway, threw stones at factories and smashed vehicles.
Labor leaders hope outrage over the fire will prompt change. Tahmina Rahman, general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation, said government needs to do more to punish factories for safety lapses.
The owners go unpunished, and so they don’t care about installing enough security facilities, she said. The owners should be held responsible and sent to jail.
Wal-Mart did not say why it dropped the Tazreen factory. But in its 2012 Global Responsibility report, Wal-Mart said it stopped working with 49 factories in Bangladesh in 2011 because of fire safety issues.