31 die in Dhaka factory fire!

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‘PROMISES and apologies always follow these disasters, but there is no real

commitment to fix the problem. It’s about greed, plain and simple,’

Larry Brown, President of Canada’s NUPGE (National Union of Public and

General Employees) said on Wednesday.

He was commenting following the tragic deaths of over 31 workers and

injuries to many more in last Saturday’s fire at the five-storey Tampaco

Foils Ltd factory in in the Tongi industrial area outside Dhaka, in

Bangladesh.

‘This is yet another example of where profits are put before the rights

of working people,’ said Larry Brown. Promises and apologies always

follow these disasters, but there is no real commitment to fix the

problem.

‘Companies want products as cheap as they can get so they can sell them

at a much higher price. It’s about greed, plain and simple. We continue

our fight for labour rights, not only for Canadian workers but for

workers around the world. Going to work should not be a death sentence,’

Brown said.

The death toll from the fire at the packaging factory in Bangladesh last

Saturday has risen to 31. The huge blast early last Saturday at the

Tampaco Foils Ltd factory outside the capital, Dhaka, triggered a

massive blaze that spread quickly at the plant, where flammable

chemicals were stored.

Twenty-three workers died immediately. Six more bodies were recovered on

Sunday evening, and two others were found overnight on Monday morning

as firefighters cleared the debris, said local chief administrator S.A.

Alam. At least eight workers were still missing on Monday, Alam said,

adding that the search for bodies would continue while authorities try

to determine what caused the explosion.

Saturday was the last working day at the factory before the workers were

to go on leave for a week-long holiday for the Islamic festival of Eid

al-Adha. The workers who died were nearing the end of their overnight

shift when the explosion took place at around 6am. Thirteen people are

being treated for burn injuries at the Dhaka Medical College and

Hospital, including six in critical condition, Mohammed Bacchu Mia, a

police officer at the hospital, said on Monday.

Anxious relatives crowded the hospital on Monday looking for their

family members.

Rajesh Babu, who worked as a cleaner at the factory, has not been seen

since Saturday, said his mother, Mina Rani Dey. ‘He came to work early

in the morning on Saturday. He has not returned,’ Dey said, sobbing as

she held a photograph of her son. ‘His father has become sick because

our son has not been seen.’

Fire service authorities said the explosion was caused in a boiler

blast. However, the boiler investigation committee rejected the claim

and a survivor said the blast was caused from a gas leak. Authorities

have put out a list of 10 missing workers of the factory. However,

because four bodies could not be identified, it was yet to be

ascertained as to whether the list of missing had shortened.

Fire officials working at the scene said that the explosion was huge and

that the fire triggered by the blast spread quickly because flammable

chemicals were stored at the factory. Factory safety is a major concern

in Bangladesh, which has thousands of garment and packaging factories

that supply products to global clothing chains like Walmart and H&M.

In 2012, a fire at a garment factory in a Dhaka suburb killed 112

workers. A year later, the Rana Plaza, a commercial complex near Dhaka

housing five garment factories, collapsed, killing 1,135 people,

Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster. Local TV stations said about 50

people were injured in last Saturday’s disaster, indicating that the

death toll could be higher.

Television footage showed smoke billowing from the factory, with the

fire engulfing part of the upper floors. It was not immediately clear

what caused the explosion. Authorities have ordered an investigation. It

shows the callous disregard of the Bangladesh government for workers’

safety, and the failure of multinational companies doing business with

the factory to take responsibility for the lives of workers in their

supply chains,’ said the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

in a press release.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said in the release: ‘These

global brands all claim to have strict supplier standards to protect

workers from just this kind of tragedy. When companies make bogus claims

to regulators and shareholders there are real sanctions, but when it

comes to protecting workers’ lives there are no legal consequences.

‘There is no substitute for the rule of law; however, even the most

basic right for workers to form unions to protect their rights and

safety is routinely suppressed by the Bangladesh government. Yet again,

the need for legal accountability and compliance across global supply

chains is evident and we call on governments, starting with the G20, to

make this a reality as a matter of urgency.’

IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Jyrki Raina said: ‘We are

saddened to see yet another tragic accident claiming the lives of

workers trying to make a living. The three-year-old Accord on Fire and

Building Safety in Bangladesh is hugely improving safety standards in

the country’s garment industry. Today’s factory explosion shows the

urgency in extending the same safety standards to other industries as

well.

‘The factory building was an old structure to which extra floors had

been added, spreading fire and eventually causing the building to

collapse. The cramped building, full of flammable materials, was

entirely unsuitable for a factory, and according to information received

by the ITUC, had only one working exit.’

Factory owners who are suppressing workers’ rights are often government

decision-makers. Factory owner Syed Mokbul Hussain, a former member of

parliament, is being sued by the parents of one of the deceased, for

culpable homicide. More than half the members of Bangladesh’s parliament

have business interests, many of them are factory owners.

Requests by factory workers in Bangladesh to register their trade unions

are routinely ignored by the government; thus, workers have been able

to organise in only a tiny percentage of factories. Major multinational

companies, including British American Tobacco, Mondelez and Nestle have

been publicly named as using the factory in their supply chains.

Government and brand name companies must share responsibility for

deaths.