On November 24th, 2012, Bangladesh’s garment industry was badly dented when a deadly fire broke out in a factory named “Tazreen” on the outskirts of Dhaka, killing an estimated 112 people who were sewing clothing for Wal-Mart, Sears, Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Enyce label, Disney and others. (cite source) The incident, the worst ever that the industry has seen, occurred in the busy winter season when factories are working round the clock to meet springtime orders. The fire started in a warehouse on the ground floor that was used to store yarn, and quickly spread to the upper floors.
The building was nine stories high, with the top three floors under construction, according to a garment industry official at the scene who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. Though most workers had left for the day when the fire started, the industry official said, as many as 600 workers were still inside working overtime. Most of the workers who died were on the first and second floors, fire officials said, and were killed because there were not enough exits. “So the workers could not come out when the fire engulfed the building,” said Maj.
Mohammad Mahbub, the operations director for the Fire Department, according to The Associated Press. In a telephone interview later on Sunday, Major Mahbub said “the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault or by a spark from a cigarette. ”(cite your source) While Dhaka’s The Independent newspaper reported Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as saying that “It is not an accident. It is a preplanned incident,” alluding to sabotage by unnamed conspiratorial forces; the High Court has ordered an independent probe into what caused the devastating fire. Two major considerations have been taken into account that what caused the disaster.
Firstly, taking a cue from the prime minister, the police have suggested that it was an act of arson. Rumors are also circulating thick and fast in the garment industry that has been shocked by the scale of the accident and the huge toll of lives. Secondly, a New York Times article “Factory in Bangladesh Lost Fire Clearance Before Blaze” states that “the factory’s fire safety certification was expired on June 30, 2012 and Dhaka’s fire authorities rejected its renewal. ” Experts say many of the fires could have easily been avoided if the factories had taken the ight precautions. Many factories are in cramped neighborhoods and have too few fire escapes, and they widely flout safety measures.
Labor activists have consistently alleged that factory owners in their greed for more business and profits have given short shrift to the safety of their workers making fires a commonplace occurrence. “(cite source of this quote) Safety measures remain woefully inadequate, ” acknowledged Farooq Sobhan, a former diplomat, who now chairs the Center for Corporate Social Responsibility and is also president of the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute. Factory inspectors are susceptible to bribes and enforcement is a big issue. Hopefully, this latest incident is the final wake-up call for the government. “(cite source) Sobhan advocates creating an independent organization with qualified experts that can assess whether factories are truly compliant in every respect. Another factor that makes the garment sector a tinderbox is its location or rather, the lack of an industrial zone for garment manufacture. Factories are widely scattered all over the country with several located in city centers, even in residential areas.
This makes monitoring a nightmare,” said Sobhan. Overall, both inside and outside factors led to the disaster. (cite source) The whole world pays a lot attention to Bangladesh’s garment industry because it has a lot at stake. The garment industry which employs 3. 6 million people, 80% of whom are poor women, is the bedrock of the country’s export sector accounting for 80% of its $24 billion annual export earnings. As companies in the US and Europe looking for a cheaper alternative to China, have flocked to Bangladesh, garment exports have been growing in high double-digits.
Bangladesh’s garment industry also linked with global retailing giant such as Wal-Mart, and other apparel brand like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap. Such a big industry, however, keeps bringing in sad news and frustrating stories, which aroused the whole community to think about a decent solution for improving the working condition in Bangladesh area. (cite source) Right after the case happened, several groups organized committees and roundtables to draw up specific demands.
Organizations like Ain o Salish Kendra or ASK, have made comprehensive lists of demands, including that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Export Association submit a report on the incident within two months. ASK demanded that the report include whether the industry executives comply with the relevant laws and what steps they have taken to safeguard the workers from fires. “I think international brands should help the victims more, especially for the women and children,” said Aslam Khan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Trade Union Center. Our government’s role was not sufficient, although they have a key role.
The government is practically trying to save the owner when they have clearly shown a lack of fire safety measures and gross negligence. ” Moreover, numerous workers’ rights advocacy groups had called on Solis and a number of European government labor officials to press brands and retailers to sign onto a joint memorandum of understanding with a group of nongovernmental organizations and international and Bangladeshi trade unions, known as the “Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. The groups claim corporate social responsibility programs are not enough and argue that more stringent steps — such as their agreement — need to be taken to prevent tragic fires in the future. PVH Corp. and German retailer Tchibo have signed onto the agreement, but it will not take effect until a specific number of firms agree to it. (cite your sources) The present state of worker’s safety is far from adequate and management practices in some cases are medieval.
Restoring the image and status of the readymade garments sector should now be considered an urgent national task. The government, the readymade garment leaders, representatives of readymade garment workers and all others concerned must urgently put their heads together. No stop-gap measure is likely to work. Prospect of Bangladesh’s fast growth depends on safe and comfortable working condition, so does the possibility of employments of millions of additional workers.
Courtney from Study Moose
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