AEPF Statement on Bangladesh Factory Fire

12 July 2021 by Asia Europe Peoples’ Forum (AEPF)

A food and beverage factory in Bangladesh was engulfed in fire killing at least 52 workers and injuring more than fifty others. The workers were trapped inside the building since the only exit had been locked. This illegal practice to force workers to remain inside the factory has led to this terrible tragedy. This once again reveals the extremely callous standards of safety that come to public notice only when a tragedy of such magnitude occurs.

The number of actual deaths are yet to be ascertained as many more workers are feared to be trapped in the fifth and the sixth floor of the building which continued to burn even after 24 hours of the incident.

The factory is owned by Sajeeb Group, a Bangladesh company producing juice under Pakistan’s Lahore-based Shezan International for exports to Australia, the US, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Bhutan, Nepal and to the Middle East and Africa. The AEPF condemns this massacre and culpable homicide, and stands in solidarity with the working people of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has a dismal record of industrial safety and has many previous incidents including factories catching fire with workers locked inside. According to Bangladesh labour laws no factory can lock its exit during working hours and when the production is on. However, the laws are routinely flouted resulting in workers getting charred inside as it happened nine years ago at Tazreen Fashions garment factory killing at least 112 workers.

It is also no coincidence that most of these accidents are happening at export oriented units which employ workers at a pittance and flout safety measures at will. The factory owners also resort to beatings and other threats and intimidation to coerce workers and to stop them from unionising. Even though Section 195 of the Bangladesh Labour Act (2006, amended 2013) prohibits such practices, their implementation remains very weak. Additionally, women workers are super-exploited and often abused.

After the Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza collapse, international bodies including the ILO emphasised the necessity for enhancing safety and working conditions in the garment and other industries but these calls went largely unheeded. In its 2017 report the ILO has acknowledged that the country’s regulatory framework and inspections “had not been able to keep pace with the development of the industry”. Similar concerns about the workers safety and security were also raised by a number of monitoring agencies and labour rights campaigners.

The AEPF denounces this wilful neglect of workers’ lives and condemns the factory owners, the international buyers and the authorities for such repeated disasters. We also demand the:

  • Immediate establishment of a high level committee by the concerned authorities to investigate this incident, identify the responsible entities and recommend strong steps to prevent any more incidents of this nature. The committee must include workers’ representatives and safety experts.
  • The concerned authorities must initiate criminal prosecution against all those who are culpable – directly or indirectly, and they must be sentenced to rigorous imprisonment.

The government must ensure a fair, just and timely compensation for the families of the killed and, no doubt, permanently disabled by the corporate negligence.

  • Immediate enforcement of safety measures and proper working conditions.
  • Guaranteeing decent living wage and working conditions of workers.
  • Stop union busting and allow workers to organise and form their associations.

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