On November 24, Wednesday, scores of activists and union leaders congregated in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka’s Ashulia suburbs to mark the eighth anniversary of the devastating fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in the area, which claimed the lives of over a hundred garment workers. According to the workers protesting on Wednesday, relatives of the victims and those who survived tragedy are still fighting for justice.
The protesters were barred by the security forces from moving to the official residence of acting prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Gono Bhaban. The security forces placed barricades, after which several union members and relatives of the victims laid themselves on the ground in protest.
The president of the Textile Garments Workers’ Federation, Tapan Shaha, noted that the families of the victims are living in “inhumane conditions” due to lack of proper compensation. Khairul Mintu, organizing secretary of the Garment Workers Trade Union, stressed that “justice has not been ensured” to hundreds of garment workers.
Tazreen Fashions produced garments for popular brands and retailers, such as Walmart, KIK, C&A and Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
Workers’ struggle for compensation
On November 24, 2012, a short-circuit triggered the massive fire at the nine-story Tazreen garment factory in Ashulia, which was later described to be the deadliest in the history of Bangladesh. Over 110 workers were killed and more than 200 left with critical injuries. Families of the victims have since been demanding compensation, relocation, and arrangements for the long-term treatment of those left injured.
After three years of struggle, an arrangement between major brands and global trade unions led to the establishment of the Tazreen Claims Administration Trust in November 2015. The trust claimed to have paid USD 2.5 million as compensation to the victims and their families, and arranged 8,613 appointments with specialized doctors for conducting surgeries and other treatment. However, activists say justice still has not been delivered.
Several former employees of Tazreen Fashions have been protesting outside the Dhaka Press Club for the past many weeks days, demanding medical treatment facilities for the injured workers, financial support for the victims’ families, and assurance of decent living for the unemployed injured workers.
“The government wanted to compensate us, but we are yet to get any of that. We are starving, which is why we have taken positions at the press club to press home our demands,” Mohammad Asaduzzaman, who hails from Bagora and formerly worked at the Tazreen factory, noted. “One of my legs is broken. We are not fit for doing any job because of the lack of proper treatment.”
Former employees have repeatedly complained about not being able to secure any other jobs. “Whenever we go to other garment factories to look for jobs, the authorities refuse to give us any since we worked at Tazreen. They have literally insulted us after being notified about our background work experience with Tazreen Fashion factory,” Asaduzzaman said.
Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporter after China. Its garment sector, which is valued at around USD 30 billion took a severe hit during the pandemic. The blow was mainly felt by workers who are finding it difficult to make ends meet. This has been compounded by the repression they have faced when they staged protests.
Research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Khondaker Golam Moazzem, wrote in an article on Wednesday that garment workers should get unemployment insurance benefit to “cover short and medium-term financial requirements in case workers get unemployed due to different reasons, including the occurrence of accidents such as happened in Tazreen Fashions’ garment factory.”