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Bangladesh: Ashulia Factory Blaze and Employers impunity

27 November 2012

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Bangladesh workers protest after factory fire kills 110

DHAKA: Garment workers in Bangladesh staged mass protests on Monday to demand the end of "deathtrap" labour conditions after the country’s worst-ever textile factory fire in which 110 employees died.

Survivors of Saturday night’s fire joined several thousand colleagues blocking a highway during a march in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia, outside the capital Dhaka, with some protesters throwing stones at one factory.

Bangladesh’s chief inspector of factories Habibul Islam told AFP that the nine-storey Tazreen factory where the blaze broke out, which was built in 2009, had permission for only three storeys. [. . .]

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Text of Editorial in The Daily Star, 27 November 2012


Ashulia tragedy: Counting the cost of our apathy

The Tazreen factory tragedy is another sad episode in our long chapter of garment factory disasters. It is a fact that in many garment factories accidents are waiting to happen, because of lax safety measures, and going by the description of the factory and its access and exit facilities such a disaster was bound to happen in Tazreen Garments.

While our heart goes out to the relatives of the victims, we can only ask whether this is merely a mishap or sheer murder owing to breach of safety procedures and gross negligence of the authorities. We are happy to note that the government has declared today a day of mourning.

The basic safety measures were disregarded in many ways. The factory godown, from where the fire originated, was located on the ground floor and the rest of shop floors on top. And the godown, that held inflammable materials, had no walls at all. We understand that the factory in question was nearly 3 kilometers from the main road and outside the export processing zone, with a very narrow access road. And this is one of the reasons that caused the delay to the fire fighting vehicles in reaching the site. And who will answer for the fact that the exit door for female workers was locked, which accounts for the fact that most of the victims were women.

It is a pity that in spite of a series of RMG factory fires and loss of lives over the past several years the authorities have made little effort to learn from past mishaps. While one accepts that accidents can happen, proper readiness and safety drills can prevent casualties. In this case, confusion was compounded by the fact the workers were told that it was a fire drill and not actual fire.

We want a judicial enquiry into the disaster. A hundred and eleven lives, and the figure may rise, is no small number. Time has come to take legal action against those in breach of the rules; the guilty must face justice, because for long these people have gotten away with plain murder. And that includes not only the managerial level staff of the factory; we want those responsible for overseeing the safety measures of the factories, the BGMEA, to answer too. Merely paying compensation is not enough, and that too, the amount promised, we feel, is a cruel joke.

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Editorial, in New Age, 27 November 2012

Exemplary punishments of guilty owners only remedy

Bangladesh, it appears, has become the surest example of the fact that lives of the poor, in general, and foreign exchange earner poor girls, in particular, can be the cheapest thing on earth under a shamefully self-seeking class of the powerful rich ruling a country under various political banners. The country also provides the crudest example of how a section of rich factory owners can easily get away with crimes such as making tons of money without at all caring about lives of poor workers year after year. This is global news now that more than a hundred workers were burnt to ashes in a factory fire at Savar in the capital Dhaka on Saturday evening. In another tragic incident in Chittagong, the country’s most important port city, more than a dozen people were killed when three concrete girders of a newly built flyover collapsed on them the same evening. In the first case, the experts concerned say, apparel workers were killed because the factory had neither the legally required fire-extinguishing system nor proper fire exits. In the second incident, people were killed because the construction company concerned did not care about using right materials in the right proportion in building the flyover while the government engineers concerned did not monitor the work properly, because of bribes. The collapse of a girder of the same flyover killed a couple of people in June. None of the errant factory management and construction firms responsible for so many deaths in Dhaka and Chittagong on Saturday has, however, been arrested till Monday afternoon. The industrial police, always busy harassing apparel workers when they rally over their wages, are never concerned about the guilty section of industrialists.

Factory fires and tragic deaths of apparel workers remain a regular phenomenon in Bangladesh. Deaths of more than 600 workers, mostly women, in garment factory fire have so far been recorded since 1990. In most of the cases, factory owners’ non-compliance with the laws and rules relating to fire-fighting was responsible for the horrible deaths. But no owners have so far been punished for such negligence, providing a sense of impunity for the rich factory owners, which eventually affects the interest of workers. Owners, be they of apparel factories or construction companies, belong to the ruling class and always enjoy the support and sympathy of the incumbents. Under the circumstances, poor classes of the people need to be politically organised to mount effective pressure on the government/s to take legal actions against the rich insensitive towards the lives and livelihood of the poor. Exemplary punishment of the guilty rich is the only way to make them sensitive towards the lives and livelihood of the poor workers.