Fire hazard factory allowed to operate

brett mathews | 6th March 2019

DHAKA – Authorities in Bangladesh knowingly allowed a garment factory to operate despite it repeatedly having failed to address alarming fire safety hazards, claims a leading campaign group. A fire at the Anzir Apparels Ltd factory in Baipail, Ashulia, on the outskirts of Dhaka, this week injured eight people according to local media reports. The factory had been listed on the website of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, which said it failed to make adequate remediation progress after inspections in 2014. Having closed and reopened several times since, under different names – a not uncommon occurrence in Bangladesh – the factory eventually ending up falling under the safety remit of the Bangladesh Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE). Clean Clothes Campaign claims that DIFE registered that the factory had its resumed activity, “but failed to take any action despite known fire safety defects at the factory.”

A press note from Clean Clothes Campaign said: “National inspection bodies thus knowingly allowed a factory to operate that had repeatedly failed to address alarming safety hazards when requested and has been active for all these years, except for two brief spells in 2016 and 2017. Such a flagrant lapse in responsibility once again demonstrates that Bangladesh’s national inspection authorities are dangerously behind on inspecting, monitoring, and enforcing remediation in the garment factories under their purview.”

Witness signatories to the Bangladesh Accord – Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labour Rights Forum, Maquila Solidarity Network and Worker Rights Consortium – have now called on the government of Bangladesh to respond to this latest fire by supporting a decision to retain the Bangladesh Accord in the country until its safety remediation work is completed.

Liana Foxvog of International Labour Rights Forum said: “This fire should be an incentive for the government of Bangladesh to put its own shop in order: speeding up and improving follow-up inspections, enforcement, and transparency. The Accord in turn should make haste in implementing its plan to broaden its scope to include boilers and related industries, and continue to offer its support to build up national inspection capacity. The Accord should also seriously investigate complaints from factory owners about unfair pricing that restricts remediation efforts.”

Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign added: “In light of the national inspection bodies’ lack of capacity once more demonstrated by this fire, and further exacerbated by the fact that they also carry the responsibility for all other industrial buildings in the country, at this time any handover of Accord covered factories to these bodies would be extremely irresponsible. There can be no further transfer of responsibilities until both the government and the Accord have fully remediated all factories under their purview.”

In the meantime, Human Rights Watch have called for Bangladesh authorities to immediately investigate garment worker and union leader allegations of arbitrary dismissals and false criminal cases following a recent protest demanding a wage hike. The NGO has also urged global garment brands sourcing from Bangladesh to investigate these allegations and call for an end to all forms of intimidation of workers.

After strikes in mid-January 2019, union leaders have reported at least 7,500 garment workers were dismissed from their jobs. Some of those dismissed were accused of vandalism and looting, but the allegations, according to HRW, “appeared broad and vague.” At least 29 criminal cases have been filed naming 551 individuals, as well as over 3,000 unidentified people, leaving workers at risk of being arbitrarily accused in one of these cases at a later date.