DHAKA, Bangladesh — A hooded Mickey Mouse sweatshirt from Disney. Piles of children’s shorts with Wal-Mart’s Faded Glory label. Clothes with hip-hop star Sean Combs’ ENYCE tag.
The garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 people were killed in a fire over the weekend was used by a host of major U.S. and European retailers, an Associated Press reporter discovered Wednesday from clothes and account books left behind amid the blackened tables and melted sewing machines at Tazreen Fashions Ltd.
Wal-Mart had been aware of safety problems at the 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 Disney-brand products at the factory 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. They seized on the blaze – the deadliest in Bangladesh’s nearly 35-year history of exporting clothing – to argue that retailers must insist on more stringent fire standards.
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 protect 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, while turning out the low-priced products shoppers in the U.S. and other countries have come to enjoy.
But the industry has a ghastly safety record; more than 300 workers have died in garment factory fires in Bangladesh since 2006.
On Wednesday, police arrested three factory officials suspected of locking in the workers who died in Saturday’s blaze on the outskirts of Dhaka.
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 eight-story building had had an emergency exit.
Most the fire’s devastation took place on the second and third floors. Sewing and embroidery machines and tables burned to ashes and ceiling fans melted.
Nightgowns, children’s shorts, pants, jackets and sweatshirts were strewn about. Among the Disney garments was a gray sweatshirt emblazoned with the image of Lightning McQueen, the star of Pixar’s “Cars” movies. A pair of blue ENYCE shorts was still on a sewing machine.