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Interview with jailed Rana Plaza factory owner Bazlus Samad Adnan

HOW WE GOT THE STORY:

In the immediate aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy, Sohel Rana, owner of the Rana Plaza was cast as the villain for his role in pushing factory owners to get their workers back into the doomed building. He soon was dragged into jail in the full glare of the media spotlight having tried to flee the country. But the fate of his tenant, Adnan who surrendered to police within a couple of days, generated less attention. The very fact that no one seemed to have talk to him the made the fifth estate team determined to find out what he had to say. We filed multiple requests with the Bangladeshi government that went unanswered for months. Once on the ground in Bangladesh, fifth estate co-host Mark Kelley was told the chances of getting permission to speak to Adnan were “impossible”. Finally, Kelley and the crew petitioned the government official in charge of the prisons in person, camping out in his office for hours until they got the answer they wanted.

36 hours later, the fifth estate crew drove to Dhaka’s old city, to the prison where Adnan was being held. The prison warden agreed to allow the interview, but forbade the use of any camera or recording equipment.

Kelley and the crew were taken to a small room and told to wait. Ten minutes later, Adnan was brought in, wearing the same red polo shirt he wore on the day he surrendered to police 4 months earlier.

Fifth estate producer Lysanne Louter typed every word and detail of the interview as it took place.

Bazlus Samad Adnan is the garment factory owner in Bangladesh that everyone forgot about. His business occupied half of Rana Plaza, the doomed building that collapsed on April 24, killing more than 1100 garment workers. Adnan, who says his biggest client was Loblaw’s hit clothing brand Joe Fresh, surrendered to police days after the accident.

Telling his story for the first time to the Fifth Estate, Adnan tells co-host Mark Kelley why he sent his workers back into Rana Plaza on that fateful day -- just one day after it had been evacuated over safety concerns -- and revealed that his company had had a long and lucrative relationship with Joe Fresh dating back to 2007.

Adnan told the fifth estate his business was going from strength to strength, making close to $15 million a year, thanks in large part to Joe Fresh. That of course changed after the 8-story Rana Plaza collapsed, drawing the world’s attention on what “Made in Bangladesh” really means.

Below is a transcript of Adnan’s exclusive interview with the fifth estate. Cameras and recording equipment was not permitted, so fifth estate producer Lysanne Louter typed down the exchange between Adnan and co-host Mark Kelley. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Adnan began the interview by telling the fifth estate that he began working in the garment industry in 1992, with just 25 machines and $8,000 in seed money borrowed from his father. He moved to Rana Plaza in 2010. He describes himself as a “good businessman” with a good reputation.

WHEN DID YOU START DOING BUSINESS WITH LOBLAWS?

In 2007 I started doing children’s clothing for Joe Fresh. The orders came through [a middle-man, an Indian buying house called] The House of Pearl. I started with the Loblaws shirts and then I started making pants.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE WORKING WITH YOU AT THE TIME OF THE COLLAPSE?

1,900 people were working for me 1,700 people in Rana [Plaza]. I was doing The Children's Place. I was doing Triple 5. Kato in New York. Joe Fresh was my biggest [client] around 6 million dollars in a year. That is why I was gradually going bigger. The ninth floor (they were building) was for me and it was to be finished in December.

WHY DID YOU NEED ANOTHER FLOOR?

Because my business was booming.

WHAT WERE THE HOURS AT HOUR FACTORY? DID YOU EVER WORK LATE TO GET AN ORDER OUT?

No no. We worked 8am-8pm for 7 days per week.

HOW MUCH WOULD THEY [JOE FRESH] PAY YOU FOR THESE SHORTS?

$15-$16 (US) per dozen for shorts

DID JOE FRESH PUT PRESSURE ON YOU?

Everybody is doing this (putting pressure on manufacturers). They all squeezed me.

WHAT KIND OF CUSTOMER WAS JOE FRESH?

A very good customer. Their policy was ship it on time.

On April 23, Rana Plaza was evacuated when cracks were spotted in the building

WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT THERE WERE PROBLEMS WITH RANA PLAZA?

It was April 23. There was a crack on the second floor. A 4x5 inch piece of plaster came off the wall. What to do? I asked for the factory manager to call me in the morning. He said it was just plaster. Maintenance [staff] cannot give the decision to evacuate the factory. It's my decision whether or not to evacuate. So that's why I called the factory manager and said, "Leave the factory."

SO IT WAS YOUR DECISION?

Yes, it was my decision. Then I called my other factories on the 6-7 floor and I called that manager and said evacuate the factories. Then I called the other factory owners to tell them to evacuate. After half an hour, they left too.

SO YOU DIDN’T WANT TO TAKE ANY CHANCES?

Yes. You know sometimes, workers are very sensitive. They know the rules. A few months before there was another incident at Tazreen so it was sensitive. [A fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory in November 2012 that killed 112 workers].

[The following day, building owner Sohel Rana assured the media and factory owners that the building was safe]

The building owner phoned an engineer. He said everything was okay. He visited all around and said everything was okay.

EVERYBODY WAS TELLING YOU IT WAS SAFE?

Yes. I am not an expert. Not a single person… This is the strange part. Not a single person said it was dangerous. (he gets up to demonstrate on the wall). Everything was detached like that. But everybody said it was okay. The engineer visited and said it was okay.

PEOPLE ARE DENYING NOW THAT THEY SAID IT WAS SAFE?

Yes, yes. [Building owner Sohel] Rana also told me that it was safe.

HOW MANY OF YOUR WORKERS DIED THAT DAY?

To this day, I don't know.

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE LIKE NOW?

I am in the jail. Everything is gone. My business is gone. My machines are gone. Everything is gone. A lot staff came to the court and they cried. A lot of people visited me. My compliance manager was trapped in the building.

HAS ANYONE FROM JOE FRESH OR HOUSE OF PEARL EVER TALKED TO YOU?

Nobody from Joe Fresh has talked to me. Nobody from House of Pearl.

DO YOU FEEL ABANDONED?

Yes, totally.

DO YOU FEAR YOU WILL NEVER GET OUT OF JAIL?

Definitely.