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Friday, December 21, 2012

Bangladesh garment unit fire ~ sabotage suspected; 3 arrested

Fire devastates ~ valuable property is lost and sometimes human lives are also lost…

Last month there were reports of ghastly death of more than 120 people when ravaging fire broke out  in the multi-storey garment factory on the outskirts in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The loss occurred at  Tazreen Fashions factory in suburban Ashulia Savar, 30 km from Dhaka, on 24.11.2012 and quickly spread to the  ground and first floors of the six-storey building. Sadly there were reports of more bodies being recovered and most of the bodies were found to be  severely charred. Fire service officials earlier said several workers of the factory were trapped inside and took shelter on the rooftop of the structure awaiting rescuers.  Hours after the blaze, efforts were still  underway to extinguish the blaze with authorities mobilising several fire fighting units. Television footage showed army troops and fire service rescuers bringing out bodies one after another from the debris as hundreds of people, including relatives of the victims, waited outside.

Bangladesh thrives on garment industry and reportedly has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country  earns some useful foreign exchange through garment exports, mainly to the United States and Europe.   The fire that razed down the multi-floor Tazreen Fashion factory in the Ashulia district on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, was feared to be the deadliest factory fire in the nation's history.  Opened in 2009, the Tazreen Fashion factory, part of Tuba group, employed 1,630 workers, who produced T-shirts, polo shirts, and jackets. While many got trapped inside, Some people died after jumping from the building to escape the flames. It is unclear what caused the fire, which started on the ground floor trapping many victims in the factory.

At that time it was suspected that an electrical short circuit might have caused the disaster. Generally, there will report of investigations, which eventually will never show any results ~ not always, perhaps.  The ghastly deaths sparked outrage and concern that human lives were not given the due regard and it was a far cry away from safety.  Thousands of garment workers staged protests in the country capital at Dhaka demanding higher safety standards.

Here is the second part of the story, which usually never happens. After the fire, there was huge public anger on the incident.  Subsequent reports suggest that Police have arrested three supervisors from a clothing factory, accusing them of  stopping workers from leaving the building and of padlocking exits. Government officials say preliminary information suggests the fire was an act of sabotage. Reports state that the Govt has opened two enquiries.  BBC reports that based on some enquiries, the supervisors had told the panicked workers at the Tazreen Fashion factory that the fire was just a drill and there was nothing worry.  All the 3 arrested reportedly were mid-level managers of Tazreen who according to some workers prevented the workers escaping from fire, calling it routine fire drill. 

On a different plane, campaigners allege Western firms making clothes in Bangladesh hide behind inadequate safety audits to help drive down costs. The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), an Amsterdam-based textile rights group, says international brands have shown negligence in failing to address the safety issues highlighted by previous fires, and that this leaves them with responsibility for yet another tragic loss of life.

According to BBC reports, the public anger against the fire has not died down and the industrial suburbs around the Capital continued to be tense with factories having declared holiday fearing large scale labour unrest.  Some workers also vandalised factories and set fire to motorcycles, injuring at least 20 people, the online edition of the Daily Star reported.  There are some who state that the owner of the Tazreen factory had been guilty of "severe negligence". There are further reports that the inquiry would recommend action against the factory owner for negligence, despite concluding that the blaze was started deliberately. The factory owner, Delwar Hossain, has previously denied allegations that the building was unsafe to work in. The Director General of Fire Service and Civil Defence, Abu Naim Mohammad Shahidullah, told the BBC that the factory's certificate had expired in June and was not renewed. Operating a factory without such a certificate is technically an offence. Experts  say that the rules relating to such certificates are often flouted.

The factory which perhaps was not having valid paper permissions,  was making clothes for Western retailers including Walmart, C&A and The Edinburgh Woollen Mill at the time of the fire. Soon after the fire accident, Walmart said it was troubled that one of its suppliers had sub-contracted work without authorisation to the Tazreen factory and that it was terminating the services of the supplier.

All is not well with the garment factories of Bangladesh, which has more than 4500 factories, employing more than two million people. Bangladesh is the world's second largest exporter of ready-made clothes, next only to China. The  sector employs more than three million people, most of them women from rural areas.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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