As they await the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Garments Association (BGMEA) report on the investigation into the fire at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory, which took more than 111 lives, garment workers are watching the political community in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with anxiety.
“We’re still waiting for some consolidated action that shows the serious intent of the government,” said Akhrar Rahman, a garment worker in the Ashulia area where Tazreen’s factory is located. The original deadline for the report was Dec. 21. He added that marking one month from the incident which took place on Nov. 26 was even “more grievous because of the sense of injustice and the lack of action against the factory owner.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday, BGMEA launched a program to check safety and compliance issues in factories. “What we have done is start a consolidated investigation into companies about their fire and other safety measures with a team of officers comprising architects, engineers, fire officials, etc., to visit each location. When we find that certain precautions are not being taken we will take these up with the management and suggest that corrective action be taken immediately,” Ehsan Ul Fattah, the secretary general of BGMEA, told WWD.
Previous reports that BGMEA planned to immediately expel 850 of its members over compliance issues about labor and safety standards were incorrect, he said.
He also added that the BGMEA report is expected shortly and that it was a matter of checking thoroughly into certain facts which did not have clear answers. “We will have the report out very soon,” he said. “The idea is to have the utmost clarity on the situation.”
As the political unrest continues in Bangladesh, with opposition parties driving protests BGMEA issued a statement last Wednesday, calling to political parties to stop repeated strikes.
Ul Fattah said in a statement that foreign buyers are “showing less interest to log orders, which is an ominous sign for the sector” as the ready-made garments industry is going through a “critical juncture.” Although the ready-made garment factories are excluded from the strikes, the logistic support including transport and other factors make it difficult to continue business as usual, he said.
The statement warned that the hartal (strikes) and political instability “might hit the industry vis-à-vis overall economy and employment. In such a situation, the country’s highest exporting sector may fall behind the race in the international market. So, to establish a business-friendly environment, all the political parties have equal responsibilities,’ the statement said.
Meanwhile, local and international groups are striving to honor the deaths of the workers who lost their lives in the fire by creating awareness about the working conditions in factories for labor and demanding justice for those injured and the families of the dead.
“My sense is that there is some chance to get justice for the workers,” said Sam Maher of Labour Behind the Label. “But it is a little depressing that everyone is trying to distance themselves from the situation — the government says it is sabotage, the brands are saying it’s not their responsibility, the factory owner says he did not know about the situation. It’s important that action is taken to see that this does not happen again.”
Among the pending issues is the “accountability factor.” To this end, a call is being made to arrest the owner of Tazreen, who has not been held accountable despite the arrests of mid-management officials of the factory.
The second is the compensation for those have lost family members, which activists say is simply not enough and needs to be made for higher compensation.
Third, it is important for the brands to sign a fire agreement proposed by the trade unions, which shows an international participation and acknowledgement of the situation.
“Action has been taken quickly but very ineffectively. Money has been handed over to some people but this has not been done transparently. The money is not sufficient — not only to cover the grief and loss but also the loss of income which the person was providing, in some cases as the sole earning member. I hope this is the catalyst for change in Bangladesh,” said Maher.
Last week, lawmakers in the U.S. brought up the matter and added pressure on the Obama administration to consider whether to remove trade benefits for Bangladesh under the U.S. trade program.
In the U.K., activists staged candlelight vigils at Edinburgh Woollen Mill stores hoping to create awareness for the retailer to compensate the victims and families of the Tazreen factory fire.
International investigations into the incident have also been continuing.
A 60-page report brought out by the International Labor Rights Forum last week, called “Deadly Secrets,” noted: “The brands and retailers collectively possess thousands of confidential factory audits that may reveal workplace hazards and even imminent threats to workers’ health and safety. But it seems they have chosen to cease business with factories to safeguard their reputation and brand images rather than reveal their deadly secrets and tell workers about the risks they face. They have kept their silence.”