Garments tragedy raises many questions about workers’ safety in Bangladesh

Bangladeshi firefighters battle a fire at a garment factory in the Savar neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh, late Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012. (Photo=AP)

A national mourning and sabotage allegation can not hide sheer negligence behind the latest and the biggest ever garments tragedy in Bangladesh that left at least 110 workers roasted alive on Saturday.

The National Mourning Day was observed on Tuesday over the casualties in Ashulia garment factory fire. The national flag was hoisted half-mast at the government and semi-government institutions. Special prayers were held at places of worship for the salvation of the soul of the deceased.

All apparel factories were shut for the day and black flags were hoisted in the factories.

The Karwan Bazar headquarters of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Narayanganj office of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) held special prayers and fed the poor.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had said those affected in the two accidents would be given assistance from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, Ministry of Relief and Disaster Management’s relief fund and the fund of the Ministry of Labour and Employment.

The worst factory fire in Bangladesh originated from the ground floor of the multi-storey Tazreen Fashions Limited in Ashulia, on the outskirt of the capital city Dhaka.

During an unscheduled discussion on a condolence motion at Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, the fire at the garment factory was preplanned.

Without naming any group, she had said the sectarian violence in Cox’s Bazar’s Ramu upazila, the recent countrywide attacks on police and fires in garment factories were all interlinked incidents.

The BGMEA leaders also hinted a sabotage ahead of the Batexpo 2012 that was inaugurated on Tuesday.

The government has already formed an inquiry committee headed by a Deputy Inspector General of police to probe the incident of fire that took more than 17 hours to be extinguished.

However, the High Court has sought names from the Human Rights Commission Chairman and the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) to form an independent probe body following a petition over the garment factory fire.

The High Court has also issued rules asking the departments concerned why actions should not be ordered against those responsible for the loss of lives.

Three days after the Tazreen Fashions tragedy, a garment factory at Ashulia caught fire on Tuesday. The fire at Shahriar Garments at Baipail erupted around 7:15 pm but was doused quickly. No casualties were reported.

Meanwhile, Detective Branch (DB) of police arrested three persons on Tuesday night in connection with the Tazreen Fashions fire . The three arrested, all employees of Tazreen Fashions Ltd, were identified as Dulal Uddin, administrative officer, Hamidul Islam Lavlu, store in-charge, and Al Amin, security supervisor.

The garments tragedy, however, has raised many questions about the poor working conditions and disregard for worker safety in the world’s second-largest garment-exporting country.

The Tuba Group, that owned the Tazreen factory in Asulia, has been repeatedly cited by safety auditors for sealed exits, blocked stairwells, lack of fire-fighting equipment or fire alarms, failure to post exit signs or light stairwells, poor wiring and lack of evacuation plans.

It has been detected that before the fire incident, the company was adding extra floors to the factory without approval, according to Habibul Islam, the government’s chief inspector of factories.

Firefighters told newsmen that the third-floor emergency exits were locked, and 12 bodies were found piled in front of them. Survivors who made it out of the building said they tried to leave when they heard the fire alarm, but managers told them it was only a drill.

Meanwhile, At least 20 garment workers were injured Wednesday morning in a clash with police on the Bypile Abdullahpur road near Tazreen Fashions Ltd at Nischintapur in Ashulia that earlier claimed the lives of 111 workers in Saturday night’s blaze.

About 20,000 workers of 100 garment factories on both sides of the road brought out a procession demanding safe workplace in the factories. When intercepted by police, they locked in clash with the law enforcers at about 9 am.

The workers also vandalized about 10 readymade garment factories before they dispersed as police used tear gas shells.

Sensing trouble, the owners earlier declared Wednesday as holiday in their garment factories.

The fire fear has scared the workers of another garments factory in Chittagong Export Processing Zone on Wednesday.

At least 48 garment workers were injured as they tried to come out of their factory following a fire alarm. However, nothing serious happened.

Officers at fire service control room said a power generator in the factory caught fire due to technical glitches, prompting the workers to run for safety. Factory workers themselves put out the fire. The injured were admitted at Chittagong Medical College Hospital.

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