DHAKA - Bangladesh on Sunday suspended seven safety inspectors after they rubber-stamped operating licenses for factories that later collapsed in the nation's worst industrial disaster, the labor secretary said.
An investigation found the inspectors had renewed licenses sometimes without even visiting the factories to check safety conditions in the Rana Plaza building that collapsed April 24, Labor Secretary Mikail Shipar said.
"The probe has found that the eight inspectors approved and renewed the licenses of five factories at Rana Plaza without proper inquiry and supervision," Shipar, the labor ministry's top official, said.
Seven were suspended Sunday while one has already retired, following the ministry probe into its inspectors who are supposed to check conditions and facilities at the nation's 4,500 garment plants, he said.
The collapse of the nine-story factory complex killed 1,129 people in a disaster that focused global attention on appalling safety standards at Bangladesh plants.
"In some cases, the inspectors renewed licenses without visiting the factories. They did it sitting in their offices," he said, adding that approving licenses by not visiting plants has become a "trend" in his inspection department.
"One of the factories, Ether Tex, which exports to Western retailers, had been operating without any licenses from the factory inspection department since 2008," he said.
A separate investigation whose findings were released May 22 found that the building's owner was the "main culprit" for the disaster because he violated construction codes.
Investigators have asked the government to prosecute the owner, a low-level official of the ruling Awami League party, for "culpable homicide," which carries a maximum life prison term.
Three of the eight officials fingered during the labor ministry probe had already been suspended for approving licenses for a Tazreen Fashion factory north of Dhaka, where a fire killed 111 people last November.
The disasters have sparked an international outcry over workers' safety in the world's second largest clothing manufacturing nation.
After the April 24 disaster, the government launched inspections of all garment factories to try to reassure Western retailers including Walmart, H&M, Tesco and Inditex of improved safety conditions.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013