Factory Fire in Gazipur – Casualties Uncertain

Fire rages on as Dignity Textile Mills Limited remains engulfed in flames since yesterday, melting its steel frame, and heating up to such an extent that fire fighters are finding it hard to extinguish this mess.

As per the National database of garment factories in Bangladesh, Dignity Textile Mills Limited had been inspected by the Bangladesh Accord near the end of 2013, and it is also listed in the Accord’s factory list for inspection [1]. The only difference is that the national database shows 835 workers has been employed in this factory, whereas according to the Accord database only 666 workers had been working here [2]. Now, it might be time to settle this number so that it reflects what is true and in favor of workers who risk to loose the most out of this fire.

According to the fire fighters, lack of enough water supply into the structure due to lack of windows or doors is helping to heat up the building which is already made up of a steel structure. Firefighters and onlookers are now actually waiting for the building to collapse.

The fire broke out on the second floor store around 2:15PM during the lunch break when most workers and executives were outside the building, and it reached the fourth floor in a matter of minutes.

Although the cause of the blaze is still uncertain, the locals of the area, other workers, onlookers and even media reporters claim that the factory had 3000 workers working when the fire had spread [3]. Although, most of the workers are expected to have been out eating lunch during this time.

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Dignity Textile Mills Limited

It is a difficult task to look out of the tragedy here, but if we take a moment to reflect, we will find that not only the factory owners have been ignorant here, but there are a lot more that safety advocates can look into for future catastrophes:

1. The European Accord mentioned in its report some short, medium and long term suggestions to renovate and repair some areas. These included separating the store-rooms of the factory from the main area with fire resistant gates, and taking care of the wiring, as well as keeping the generator room safe. The European Accord did not feel the necessity (as it has felt with many other factories before) to close this factory down until these issues that they pointed have been taken care of. Of course, not to mention the harm that it brings to workers if a factory is closed down for repairs or for not meeting Accord Standards – where the Accord falls short of ensuring worker rights – making even this initiative a controversial and a double-edged sword for workers.

2. The Accord in its report does not mention about lack of enough doors or windows, while this is the chief complain of fire fighters now as they remain perplexed and helpless due to lack of avenues from which they can supply water to cool this inferno down. It is now raising questions among even the common bystander in Gazipur as to how such an expert group of highly paid Westerners who are here to ensure worker interests in safety miss such an obvious thing. Or is it, something that the Bangladeshis and its poor and “less-intelligent” (and thus commercial less significant, and worthy to be exploited) workers are missing something that probably will pop up soon to discredit them for their own chaotic nightmares.

3. The European Accord says that its 666 workers who were working in that factory, the National Database says its 835, the onlookers, families and reporters say its 3000 workers. Who should people believe? It is very important, because if there are less workers than the owners need to pay less for compensation (i.e. if they choose to pay anything at all), and if there are more, then they pay more. It has previously been voiced by RISE and many others that the numbers reflected on the Accord lists are not always accurate and reflect the buyer/factory owner’s version more than the reality, however, now is the time to reflect on the real answer to this question.

It must be noted that factory owners intentionally downsize the actual number of workers in a factory due to a number of factors, starting from legal working hours to contracts, benefits, overtimes and labor court matters etc. (is it a topic where a book can be written), but for organizations, national administrations and journalists/researchers, it is important to have one correct list to protect the interest of workers in situations like these.

While the news is still not behind us, the hope to hear something better than worse is also uncertain.

With Uncertainty and Solidarity,

RISE.

———

[1] http://database.dife.gov.bd/factories/details/4/2258-dignity-textile-mills-ltd?format=html

[2] http://bangladeshaccord.org/wp-content/uploads/Accord-Public-Disclosure-Report-1-May-2015.pdf

[3] http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2015/05/31/gazipur-clothing-factory-fire-is-still-burning

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Posted in Garment Worker Issues

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