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Wal-Mart, Disney clothes found in Bangladesh fire

112 people were killed in the fire on Saturday at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory.

A Disney brand hoody lays among the equipment charred in the fire that killed 112 people.
A Disney brand hoody lays among the equipment charred in the fire that killed 112 people.
Image: (AP Photo/Ashraful Alam Tito)

THE GARMENT FACTORY in Bangladesh where 112 people were killed in a fire had been making clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney, Sears and other major global retailers — some of whom say they thought they had stopped doing business with the place.

The apparent confusion underscored what some industry experts say is a major obstacle to improving factory safety in developing nations. Many retailers in the U.S. and Europe rely on such a long and complex chain of manufacturers, vendors and middlemen to keep their shelves stocked that it is difficult to keep track of where certain products are made.

(AP Photo/Ashraful Alam Tito)

Amid the blackened tables and melted sewing machines at Tazreen Fashions Ltd., clothes and account books were discovered that indicated the factory was used by a host of U.S. and European retailers.

Among the items discovered: children’s shorts with Wal-Mart’s Faded Glory label, hooded sweaters marked Disney Pixar, shorts with hip-hop star Sean Combs’ ENYCE tag, and sweaters from the French company Teddy Smith and the Scottish company Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Sears was among the companies listed in the account books.

Wal-Mart said that it received a safety audit that showed the factory was “high-risk” and had decided well before the blaze to stop doing business with Tazreen. But it said a supplier had continued to use Tazreen without authorization.

(AP Photo/Ashraful Alam Tito)

Sears said it learned after the blaze that its merchandise was being produced there without its approval through a vendor, which has since been fired. Walt Disney Co., which licenses its characters to clothing makers, 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.

Retailers like Wal-Mart have contract clauses that require suppliers to disclose all factories and subcontractors producing merchandise for sale. But it’s hard to crack down on unauthorized subcontracting, said Josh Green, chief executive of New York-based Panjiva, which tracks shipments for factories outside the U.S.

Bangladesh’s fast-growing garment industry — second only to China’s in exports — provides jobs and revenue for the desperately poor country,  but the industry has a terrible safety record; more than 300 workers have died in garment factory fires in Bangladesh since 2006.

(AP Photo/Ashraful Alam Tito)

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.

Yesterday, police arrested three factory officials suspected of locking in the workers who died in Saturday’s blaze on the outskirts of Dhaka. 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 eight-story building had had an emergency exit.

- AP

Read: Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs urged to act after Bangladesh factory fire >

Read: Workers protest ‘deathtrap’ factories >

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