Workers interviewed by the AP have expressed support for Hossain, and describe him as a bearded man in his 50s who usually wears white clothes. Worker Mohammad Rajib said he is a "gentle man" who gave them raises and fired some managers after workers protested against low pay and abuse.
"He did not sack any worker. He told us: 'You are my people, if you survive, I will survive,'" Rajib said.
The factory employed about 1,400 workers, most from a poor region of northern Bangladesh and about 70 percent of them women.
Labor Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju said that factories without emergency exits — or with only one such exit — will be forced to close until they upgrade their safety infrastructure. It was not clear when and how that directive will be enforced.
Nazma Akhter, president of the Bangladesh Combined Garment Workers Federation trade union, called for the arrest of the factory's owners and management to send a message to the industry as a whole.
"There should be a criminal case against them. It could stop the recurrence of such incidents," she said.
In 2001, Bangladesh's High Court directed the government to set up a committee to oversee the safety of garment workers after a similar fire in a factory killed 24 people. But that directive was never implemented, and more than 300 people have been killed in garment factory fires since 2006.
"It's unfortunate that the government has ignored the directive. Had the government complied with it there would have been fewer accidents, I believe," said Sultana Kamal, executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra, a legal and human rights group that had petitioned the court for the ruling.
Government officials did not respond to calls for comment.
An Associated Press reporter at the factory discovered children's shorts with Wal-Mart's Faded Glory label, hooded sweat shirts emblazoned with Disney cartoons, 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.