Labor leaders hope outrage over the latest disaster will prompt change. Tahmina Rahman, general secretary of the Bangladesh Garment Workers Federation, said government needs to do more to punish factories for safety lapses.
"The owners go unpunished and so they don't care about installing enough security facilities," she said. "The owners should be held responsible and sent to jail."
Wal-Mart did not say why it dropped the Tazreen factory. But in its 2012 Global Responsibility report, Wal-Mart said it stopped working with 49 factories in Bangladesh in 2011 because of fire safety issues. And online records appear to indicate the Tazreen factory was given a "high risk" safety rating after an inspection in May 2011 and a "medium risk" rating in August 2011.
For more than a day after the fire, Wal-Mart said it could not confirm whether it was still doing business with Tazreen, which was making T-shirts and polo shirts. The uncertainty illustrated how major retailers in the US and Europe rely on a highly complex chain of foreign manufacturers and middlemen to keep their shelves stocked.
Tazreen Fashions is a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, a major Bangladeshi garment exporter whose clients include Wal-Mart, Carrefour and IKEA, according to its website. Its factories supply garments to the US, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, among other countries. The Tazreen factory opened in 2009 and employed about 1,700 people.
Neither Tazreen nor Tuba Group officials could be reached for comment.
Maj. Mohammad Mahbub, fire department operations director, said investigators suspect a short circuit caused the fire.
But the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association urged investigators not to rule out sabotage.