Factories in the country take away lives of the workers though the workers come here to save life. They do not know that amid searching livelihoods in the factory they are engaging their lives into deathtraps.
Instead of welcoming their dreams to come true they are compelled by their fate to embrace fatalities while working at their respective places. Recently, the death toll of the workers working in a juice factory in Rupganj, Narayanganj has again exposed the dire helplessness of the workers. Different sources estimate that the massive fire has claimed more than 55 lives of the workers and many received injuries.
This is not the single most tragic incident in which the workers have faced fatalities. Over the years the horrific incidents of fire in the garments, textiles and food manufacturing factories and many more man-made disasters have brought cruel death for the ill-fated workers. For example, the Tazreen Fashions fire of the year 2012 brought inhumane disaster upon the workers. Many claimed that it was not barely an accident that blazed the factory, rather it was a cruel killing of the innocent workers trapped in the factory.
According to media sources, the gross violation of safety measures in the factory claimed many lives of the workers. Not only that, the reports after the fire incident revealed that the management compelled the workers to stay inside the factory. Even though many tried to flee, they found the gates locked. Due to the absence of emergency exits, hundreds of workers died. Besides, many were injured for life by jumping from windows of the upper floors.
Within a couple of months we witnessed another tragic incident ever happened in the country. In 2013 the collapse of Rana Plaza building raised a cry not only in Bangladesh but also across the globe. This building housed five garment factories. The collapse of the building claimed more than 1132 lives of the workers and over 2500 workers faced life time injuries. Different reports claimed that undoubtedly the huge toll of death could easily be averted unless the authority concerned would allow the workers to evacuate the building early.
This tragedy was held for the carelessness of the management. After Rana Plaza tragedy the garments sector suffered a great blow for a certain time. The international agencies made a strong bar and consequently, the garments exporting halted. It was the pressure from international agencies that unless those factories must fix problems and comply with international standards, they would lose the access to international market which was an economic bar for the country.
To withdraw the bar imposed on the garments, the concerned all took immediate initiatives to detect the wrong-doings that make the factories death traps for the workers. The concerned took factory inspection planning and strategies to overcome the ongoing challenges in the garments. Reports revealed that more than 1600 factories had no safe emergency exits. In most cases they had no adequate fire detection or alarm system.
However, it was good to see that many factories accorded the government initiatives and acted accordingly. With the target time frame set by the international buyer agencies, a significant positive change took place that helped to withdraw the bar in the garments sector.
But how much it was sustainable is an important question. The ongoing irregularities and casualties caused in the garment factories state that the management is very indifferent to follow the international standard ensuring the rights of the workers. It is evidenced that the capitalist attitudes of the garment owners emphasize the most on getting profit, hardly think of the workers’ interest. Even they seem to have nothing to rescue the workers from various vulnerabilities. When any misfortune falls upon the workers, they hardly take any responsibility for this.
Certainly, experts have identified many causes of workers’ death inside the factories during any emergency. Absence of alternative stairs or emergency exit routes, lack of firefighting equipment and materials, faulty gas and electric lines in the factories, violation of building codes are the causes making factories deathtraps. Apart from these, use of low quality fittings, lack of proper warning and signal arrangement by a public address system, and lack of disaster drill and training of workers may accelerate the safety risk of the workers in the factories.
It is obvious that the garment sector is the most rising sector contributing largely to the country’s GDP growth. But in many cases the mismatch in respect of providing the workers the basic rights in their working places is found. For example, the government has fixed the wages of the garment workers. But many garment owners do not follow the instruction of the government and try to exploit the workers in many ways that more often causes labor agitation. In this sector the workers are found doing forced overtime whether they are capable physically or mentally causing huge dissatisfaction among them.
Not only that, according to Human Rights Watch, workers regularly undergo ill-treatment and poor working conditions inside factories. In most cases they are physically and verbally abused along with denial of paid maternity leave, failure to pay wages and bonuses on time.
Things get so cruel when we hear an allegation against the factory management that during any crisis, the gates of the factory are locked. But what is the intention of the big gun of the factories behind this heinous work? Do they want to kill the workers in this way?
After every tragic incident occurred in a factory many TV channels are found busy arranging talk-shows. The authorities concerned are invited on the air. They highlight their achievements in regard to the workers’ safety and engage in blaming politics but hardly take effective strategies to provide a risk-free healthy environment for the workers. Contrarily, the man-made deathtraps more often take away workers’ lives. It is very ironic that the leaders in the garments sector talk in this way that the workers are their main capital but in reality they hardly ponder over the interest of the workers.
To this end, it is very urgent to consider all the hazards and insecurities the workers are facing in the factories. The inspection teams responsible to take actions against any irregularities should be punished first for their negligence. There is no alternative to taking stern action against those who compromise safety for the workers in the factories bringing irreparable loss of the deceased families.
The writer teaches at Prime University. He is also a research scholar at the IBS. Email: [email protected]