Bangladesh Factory Inferno Witness: Managers Ignored Fire

Witness claims managers closed gate to keep workers working.

ByABC News
November 28, 2012, 9:51 AM

Nov. 28, 2012— -- An eyewitness to this week's deadly garment factory fire in Bangladesh, which killed 112 workers, claimed that managers lowered gates to prevent employees from leaving because they thought it was a false alarm.

"Our production manager ... pulled down the collapsible gate on the third floor, forcing us to continue working," the witness said, according to an account of the Tazreen Factory fire shared with ABC News Tuesday night by Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.

"We pleaded with him 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.'"

An official with the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, a group that has been highly critical of the garment industry and has lobbied for safety improvements, said they were withholding the witness's name to protect him from reprisals.

The account is part of a growing effort by advocacy and labor groups to demand safety reforms in Bangladesh, where high-rise factory fires have killed hundreds of workers in recent years.

Over the past several days, the names of the American brands that were 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 clothing for a number of other U.S. labels, including a clothing line by music mogul Sean Combs called ENYCE, and clothing by the workwear brand Dickies.

Late Tuesday the Associated Press reported that The Walt Disney Company was also among the brands manufactured at the factory and Wednesday published photos from the factory of what it said were labels from Disney Mickey Mouse sweatshirts. For its original report on the factory fire, ABC News was told by a Disney representative that the company's third party supplier assured them none of their orders had been placed at the Tazreen factory.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the families who have lost loved ones in this horrific tragedy," a Disney spokesperson said Wednesday in response to the AP story. "Our records indicate that none of our licensees have been permitted to manufacture Disney-branded products in this facility for at least the last 12 months. We have been working collaboratively with governments, NGOs and other companies to address the issues associated with manufacturing in Bangladesh and we are committed to continuing these efforts."

A supplier for Disney, Li and Fung, had placed orders at the factory for ENYCE and also supplied clothing to Wal-Mart, but officials with Wal-Mart would not say if Li and Fung had been responsible for placing their orders with Tazreen.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company terminated a contract with a middle man because the company had prohibited its suppliers from using Tazreen. A Wal-Mart audit from 2011, which was posted online, showed the factory had serious safety issues that needed to be addressed. The AP also reported clothes made for Sears had been discovered at the factory. A spokesperson for Sears told ABC News Monday that "any merchandise found at that factory should not have been manufactured there, and we are currently investigating further."

Li and Fung, the Hong Kong-based supplier that had placed orders at Tazreen, published a statement on its website pledging to pay relatives of each victim $1,200. Wal-Mart and ENYCE did not respond to questions about whether the companies planned to assist victims of the fire.

Bangladesh's interior minister, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, said Tuesday officials had concluded the fire was the result of sabotage, according to published reports.