A deadly factory fire that killed at least 111 textile workers was sabotage, Bangladesh authorities said Tuesday, as protesters took to the streets for a second day and garment factories across the world's second biggest clothes exporter stopped work to mourn the dead.
The country's worst-ever industrial blaze broke out on Saturday and consumed the multi-story Tazreen Fashions factory building. More than 150 workers were injured.
The interior minister, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, said according to a preliminary inquiry, the fire was the result of arson.
He promised to bring the culprits to justice.
"We have come to the conclusion that it was an act of sabotage. We are finding out as of now who exactly the saboteurs are and all culprits will be brought to book," Alamgir said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also said she suspected the fire was an act of sabotage but she did not identify any suspect or say why she thought the cause might have been arson.
Victim's families to get $1,200 each
The fire has put a spotlight on global retailers that source clothes from Bangladesh, where the cost of labor is low — as little as $37 a month for some workers — and rights groups have called on big-brand firms to sign up to a fire-safety program.
Bangladesh has about 4,500 garment factories and is the world's biggest exporter of clothing after China, with garments making up 80 percent of its $24 billion annual exports.
Li & Fung, a company that has worked with the factory and that supplies some U.S. clothing firms, said on Sunday that it would provide victim’s families with approximately $1,200 each, and plans to set up an education fund for victim’s children.
On Monday, it said the company was "very distressed and saddened by the deaths" in a statement that also sought to reassure investors that the fire "will not have any material impact on the financial performance of Li & Fung."
"The total value of orders placed for the year with Tazreen on behalf of Kids Headquarters, a division of LF USA … amounted to approximately $111,000," it said in a statement.
"Li & Fung also confirms that the Company has not placed orders for other customers with Tazreen," it addded.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, said in a statement that one of its suppliers subcontracted work to the factory without authorization and would no longer be used.
The company would not comment on what products were made at the factory and whether the products made it onto store shelves. A spokeswoman, Megan Murphy, said in an e-mail to NBC News that the company would have no further comment beyond the statement released on its website.
A number of other retailers like Gap and Nike rushed to deny any relationship with the plant.
More than 1,000 workers, some carrying black flags, demonstrated in the Ashulia industrial belt on the outskirts of the capital where the factory is located.
They blocked traffic moving on a highway and vowed to avenge the deaths of their colleagues, witnesses said.
"Never shall we give up demands for punishment for those responsible for the tragedy," one worker said.
Hundreds of protesters, mostly from labor and rights groups, also gathered in the capital demanding to know the cause of the fire and calling for punishment of those responsible.
All of Bangladesh's garment factories closed as the nation observed a day of mourning. Flags flew at half-mast on all government buildings.
Working conditions at Bangladeshi factories are notoriously poor, with little enforcement of safety laws. Overcrowding and locked fire doors are common. More than 300 factories near the capital shut for almost a week this year as workers demanded higher wages and better conditions.
At least 500 people have died in garment factory accidents in Bangladesh since 2006, according to fire officials.
Reuters contribtued to this report.
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