The garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 people were killed in a fire Saturday was used by a host of major U.S. and European retailers, an Associated Press reporter discovered Wednesday from clothes and account books left amid the blackened tables and melted sewing machines.
Wal-Mart had been aware of safety problems at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory and said it had decided well before the blaze to stop doing business with it. But it said a supplier had continued to use Tazreen without authorization.
Sears, likewise, said its merchandise was being produced there without its approval through a vendor, which has since been fired. The Walt Disney Co. said its records indicate that none of its licensees have been permitted to make its branded products at Tazreen for at least a year.
Labor activists have long contended that retailers in the West bear a responsibility to make sure the overseas factories that manufacture their products are safe.
Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, said nothing will change unless clothing companies protect workers as vigorously as they do their brands.
"The labels are legally protected," he said. "But there are no similar laws to protect rights of the worker."
Bangladesh's fast-growing garment industry, second only to China's in exports, has long provided jobs and revenue for the desperately poor country. But the industry has a ghastly safety record; more than 300 workers have died in garment factory fires in Bangladesh since 2006.
Wednesday, police arrested three factory officials suspected of locking in the workers who died in the blaze. Police Chief Habibur Rahman said the factory owner was not among those arrested.
About 1,400 people worked at the factory, about 70 percent of them women. Survivors said exit doors were locked, and a fire official said the death toll would have been much lower if the building had an emergency exit.
Most of the devastation took place on the second and third floors. Nightgowns, children's shorts, pants, jackets and sweatshirts were strewn about. Cartons of kids' hooded sweaters were marked "Disney Pixar." A pair of blue ENYCE shorts was still on a sewing machine.