DHAKA, Bangladesh – A Bangladesh court on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for two owners of a garment factory and four of their employees on homicide charges for the deaths of 112 workers in a fire that engulfed the factory in 2012.
Prosecutor Anwarul Kabir Babul said that Judge Wasim Sheikh issued the arrest warrants Tuesday for the six, including owners Delwar Hossain and his wife, Mahmuda Akter.
Police said the six have fled and it is not known where they are. If they are not found by Feb. 25 when the court sits, they could be tried in absentia for the charges connected with the fire that destroyed the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory in November 2012.
It was the first time Bangladeshi authorities had sought to prosecute factory owners in the country’s lucrative garment industry, which is the world’s second largest after China.
A series of deadly disasters – including the fire and a factory collapse in April that killed more than 1,100 workers – has exposed how harsh and often unsafe conditions are for many of the country’s 4 million workers providing clothing to major Western retailers.
The arrest warrants come after police filed homicide charges on Dec. 22 against the 13. The warrants were issued because the six had fled.
Babul said a decision on when the trial would begin would be taken on Feb. 25 when police are to update the court on what they have done to find the six.
He said the accused face a minimum of seven years in prison up to a life sentence in prison if convicted of failing to ensure safety at the sprawling factory, located outside Dhaka, the capital.
The factory, which produced clothing for global brands including Wal-Mart, had no emergency fire exits, while its location in a narrow alley meant firefighters were unable to reach the flames, Babul said, citing a police investigation.
The investigation said that managers and security guards told the workers that the blaze was part of a regular fire drill when it broke out.
Bangladesh earns more than $20 billion a year from garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe.