Bangladesh Factory Fire: ‘This Amounts to Murder’

Bangladesh Factory Fire: ‘This Amounts to Murder’

Worker rights advocates and the international human rights community are expressing sorrow, disbelief and outrage over the horrific fire at the Hashem Foods Ltd., factory in Bangladesh that killed at least 52 workers and more than a dozen children early this week. News reports say factory exits were locked, trapping the 200 workers inside. Three workers died jumping from the burning building.

“We believe that the fire has occurred as a result of non-compliance with law and safety regulations of the institution. This amounts to murder committed by the factory,” three major union federations said in a statement. Chemicals and flammable substances like polythene and clarified butter contributed to the blaze in the factory, and made it more difficult to bring under control, according to CNN.

The Bangladesh Garments and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) and Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) went on to call on the government to immediately investigate the cause of the fire and to provide fair compensation to those injured and to the families of those killed.

The owner and several top officials at the factory, owned by Bangladeshi conglomerate Sajeeb Group’s subsidiary Hashem Foods Ltd., have been arrested on murder charges. Some 2,035 people work in 11 factory buildings of Hashem Foods, which produces juice drinks, cookies and other snacks.

The fire amounts to “premeditated murder,” says Nahidul Hasan Nayan, general secretary of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF). “Workers whose sweat has built palaces lost their lives due to the greed of owners, their lack of accountability, irresponsibility, brutality and lack of safety at work. We demand the culprits to be brought to swift justice.”

Bangladesh Accord Must Be Renewed

Worker rights advocates say the Hashem factory fire highlights the need for multinational brands to renew the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a landmark agreement that made factories safer for 2 million garment workers. Signed by fashion brands and unions in 2013, the Accord was set apart from previous safety agreements because it was legally binding, providing a key enforcement mechanism for workers and their unions to hold individual brands and retailers accountable.

The Accord was set to expire May 31, but corporate brands agreed to a three-month extension to allow for more time to conclude negotiations on a new binding safety agreement. Global union leaders and human rights activists say the Accord must also be expanded beyond fashion brands.

“While huge strides have been made in the garment industry safety—thanks to the Bangladesh Accord—it is a reminder that without robust and independent systems to enforce safe working conditions, the very worst can happen,” says UNI Global Union General Secretary Christy Hoffman.

Workers say that through their unions, they are able to advocate for safe working conditions without fear of being disciplined or even fired. As with the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, that killed more than 1,100 garment workers, and the 2012 Tazreen factory fire that killed more than 112 garment workers, those at the Hashem Foods factory did not have a union to help them fight for a safe workplace or ensure children were not employed.

Says Chandon Kumar, BIGUF president: “Government agencies create investigation committees just for show. How come they did not see child labor and insufficient fire protection? We must have the right to form unions, democratic process and the freedom to speak up.”

Send Solidarity Greetings to Bangladeshi Garment Workers!

A year ago, 112 garment workers were killed in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory—and a thousand others were injured in the scramble to escape a building with no fire escapes and firmly barred windows.

On April 24, 2012, more than 1,200 garment workers were killed when the multistory Rana Plaza building pancaked in, crushing workers in five factories located in the building.

If these workers, nearly all young women, had been in unions, it’s likely these tragedies could have been prevented.

These disasters—and many more smaller, little-reported workplace tragedies—are why Bangladeshi garment workers are literally organizing for their lives.

Because of the international attention these disasters sparked, workers now can register their unions.

But they are facing intense employer resistance—including physical attacks, threats and termination—and some of these young leaders could benefit from hearing from experienced trade unionists that the fight for a union is worth the struggle.

The workers would be strengthened by international support, knowing they are not alone. To send them a messae of solidarity, please use the sample letter below or write one of your own. Send the completed letter to [email protected] and let these workers know that you stand with them. The Solidarity Center, which has worked for 20 years to help Bangladeshi garment workers gain a voice on the job, will translate and distribute the letter to its union partners, and your message will reach the workers who need to hear it the most.


Dear Sisters and Brothers:

As fellow trade unionists, we are writing in solidarity to commend your bravery and to encourage you to stand together in the face of employer resistance.

Since the tragic Tazreen factory fire in November 2012, you have made great progress in your efforts to organize. Even though ready-made-garment factory owners and the  Bangladesh government have placed hurdles and difficulties in your path, you have persevered.

As union members, we know what this struggle is like. We know how hard employers fight to keep the union out, going as far as harassing and firing activists and leaders. Employers will try and turn you against one another.

We know from experience the struggle is worth the difficult journey—the union is the best way for workers to stand up for their rights.

Keep up your amazing effort and find strength in each other. Do not give up! We are with you!

In Solidarity,

Nasima, Tazreen Survivor: Day by Day, My Situation Is Getting Worse

Nasima, Tazreen Survivor: Day by Day, My Situation Is Getting Worse

Nasima, 25, cannot neither breathe nor see well these days. She speaks softly, too weak to raise her voice. Nasima escaped the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions garment factory fire in Bangladesh with her life, but her injuries from the disaster are so extensive that she can no longer support herself and her family. “I don’t have the strength to work in the garment factories anymore,” she says.

Nasima works in her landlord’s house for food but has been unable to pay rent for the past four months. Her husband cannot work because of a heart condition, and their daughter and son may not be able to continue in school because the family has no money to pay their school fees.

“I am always worried about my family’s future. How will I survive? Day by day my situation is getting worse,she said, weeping.

She sold all possessions she had left in her home village to pay for her medical expenses, but cannot afford the CAT scan her doctors recommend.

On the day of the Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 workers and injured thousands more, Nasima said, “even after the fire alarm, I was warned by other workers that if I leave, I will be terminated.” With two small children at home, Nasima said, “I wanted to go out. But the factory manager and the production manager had forbidden me to do that. They said nothing was happening.”

She left her work station and made it to the second floor. “I asked others to somehow let me go out of the building. I was lifted to the shoulder of a mechanic and thrown to the roof of the nearby building.”

Following the Tazreen disaster, Nasima received $320 and a little food from two private organizations. She says she received a call from the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturing and Exporting Association (BGMEA) regarding compensation, but the employer group later refused to give her money, saying she would get it in the future if it were available. A year later, Nasima has received nothing.

Nasima hopes for compensation from the employers and the government—enough to enable her to survive if she can never return to work. “I am in this condition while doing their work,” she said. Nasima wants her children to get education so they will not struggle to survive. She wants to get well soon and go back to work.

Raoshonara, Tazreen Survivor: No Other Option but Begging to Survive

Raoshonara, Tazreen Survivor: No Other Option but Begging to Survive

Raoshonara is destitute. “I have no other option but begging to survive,” she said, and burst into tears. The 35-year-old garment worker is unable to support herself or her family after suffering severe injuries escaping the factory fire that decimated Tazreen Fashions where she worked as a finishing operator. Raoshonara, like her co-workers at the multistory factory, was forced to jump out of a window because the building had no fire escapes. Some 112 workers died in the November 24, 2012, tragedy at Tazreen, located just outside Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital.

Unable to work because of disability and pain—“I cannot even sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch,” she said—she sent her children back to her home village because she cannot support them. “I am not even able to buy food for them,” she said. Raoshonara is living with her sister, who buys her food and medicine. But that assistance will soon end. Raoshonara says her sister “won’t be able to continue her support for very long because she has to maintain her family.”

Raoshonara paid her initial medical bills with the compensation she received from the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturing and Exporting Association (BGMEA) and the private, Jesuit-run organization, Caritas. But she needs far more medical care and neither the factory owner, nor the brands, nor the government is offering Tazreen victims any assistance.

Her backbone is damaged from falling three stories. She suffers severe pain from a leg fractured in the fall. Another leg was sliced by a machine in the melee before she jumped out the window, as panicked workers stumbled in the dark trying to escape. And like nearly all Tazreen survivors, she is psychologically traumatized. “I get frightened when I see any big building. Fear of death always keeps me frightful and makes me cry,” she said.

Raoshonara came to Dhaka in 2008 from a small village in the Jamalpur District, after she was abused by her husband who frequently demanded large amounts of money as dowry. To pay him, she sold the small property her father left her and her brothers in the village. Once in Dhaka, at Tazreen, she worked hard and planned to send her children through school. She was filled with hope for her new life.

Now, she says, she is begging just to survive.

Tazreen Survivor, Morsheda: We Poor Have Lost Everything


Morsheda is forced to send her son to live with relatives because she can no longer support him after being injured in the Tazreen Fashions factory fire. Credit: Solidarity Center

Morsheda could not travel to her home village in Bangladesh for the recent Eid holiday because she could not afford the trip. Her 9-year-old son, who lives in the village with his grandmother, told neighbors there that he does not have parents because if he did, they would be with him for the holiday

“You cannot imagine how very painful it is for parents to hear such words from their child,” she said.

Since sustaining severe injuries in the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions garment factory fire, Morsheda, 25, has been too disabled to work. Without funds for her son’s education, she sent him to live with her relatives.

Morsheda has lost the use of her right hand, so badly damaged during her flight from the blaze that swept through the multistory factory that she can only prepare meals with the help of her sister. To get out of the factory, Morsheda, like nearly every Tazreen survivor, was forced to jump from a window to safety after she and co-workers found the stairwell exits locked. They escaped even though their manager had ordered them back to work when the fire alarm sounded. Her right eye was gashed as a result of her fall, and she still has difficulty seeing from it.

“My whole body is swollen when I wake up from sleep,” she said. “Every night I feel pain in my right leg and my waist.”

Her husband, also a garment factory worker, is not paid enough to buy the medicine she needs. “With his income, it is tough to buy medicine, to run a family, to pay for my son’s educational expenses, to pay back loans, etc.,” she said. The little money Morsheda received in compensation for her injuries was quickly spent on her medical care.

Morsheda believes that the factory owner, the brands and the government have forgotten her and the thousands of other Tazreen garment workers now too injured to support themselves and their families. Morsheda says she needs real assistance if she and her family are to survive.

Morsheda and her husband came to Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, several years ago in search of jobs. With two incomes, the couple could pay for their son’s education. But now, out of school and missing an education, they fear their child will face a bleak future, one that likely will continue the cycle of poverty.

“Leading a better life is not only the hope of rich people but also the poor people like us,” Morsheda said, crying. “Garment owners have much money. They have the capability to run so many garment factories. They have nothing to lose. But we poor have lost everything.”



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