‘Whenever we go to other garments to look for jobs, the authorities refuse to give us any since we worked at Tazreen’
While some of the Tazreen Fashion factory workers managed to escape death, surviving the fire that broke out eight years ago on this day, many were severely maimed for life and are still without jobs.
On November 24, 2012, the deadliest factory fire in the nation’s history broke out at Ashulia, on the outskirts of Dhaka, killing at least 112 people and leaving over 200 injured.
The blaze was believed to have been caused by a short circuit. Workers were trapped inside the building, as all exit routes to the outside were locked.
There was only one route - through the windows on the upper floors of that nine-storey building since the windows on the lower floors were barred.
Workers who got stuck inside and couldn’t escape were killed by fire and smoke.
Meanwhile, even those who escaped - by jumping from the windows of the third and fourth floors - sustained serious back and head injuries, which have left many of them in constant pain.
The families of those killed and injured have been fighting for compensation for the last eight years. Among the injured survivors, many are unable to work due to their physical condition, while other garments are not employing them.
‘Protesting over a month’
Several members of 45 families who sustained injuries gathered in front of the National Press Club at Dhaka’s Topkhana Road for almost 40 days demanding ideal compensation, relocation and arrangements for long-term treatment for the injured.
Md Asaduzzaman, who hails from Bogura and is a former worker at Tazreen Fashion, still moves about with his broken leg.
“We are not fit for doing any job now due to lack of proper treatment. One of my legs is broken,” he said.
“Whenever we go to other garments 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 added.
He further said: “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 press club] to press home our demands.”
“We have been dependent on other family members, including parents, spouse and siblings, for the last eight years. There are many who have sold their land and all property, to continue their treatment, and as a result have become bankrupt,” Asaduzzaman said, unable to hold back his tears.
‘No one pays heed to our demand’
Rehana Akter, hailing from Mithapukur upazila of Rangpur, was working at Tazreen along with four other relatives. All four perished in the fire. The incident left her crippled for life.
“Although the International Labour Organization funded my treatment, it was insufficient and covered only one third of my total medical costs. The bones in my spine and neck are broken. I have become unable to get any job to sustain my livelihood,” she said.
“No one, from the authorities of Tazreen Fashion to the garments forum to the prime minister, has paid any heed to our demands although we have been sitting here for a long time,” Rehana added.
She questioned: “Why do we have to suffer in getting even basic rights? In this country where Rohingya refugees are living a happy life, why not us? Aren’t we citizens of Bangladesh?”
She urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to meet their three-point demands as she claimed that the premier considered the female workers of the garments as “Golden Girls.”
‘Country using our manpower’
Sumi Akter from Comilla is yet another injured victim of the Tazreen fire tragedy.
She blamed the government for not taking proper steps for the injured survivors, saying : “If we get an opportunity to take food for once, we have to starve twice. What is wrong with our government that cannot manage things for the citizens of the state?”
“My husband left me at my mother’s when he could no longer afford my treatment expenses. My mother sold her property and tried to arrange the costs but I am still far removed from proper treatment. My left leg is immovable now,” Sumi added.
She said her family had become a loan defaulter as it could not repay the loan it had borrowed.
“Sometimes some passers-by give us some money after seeing our starving faces. While the country is making its income by using manpower like us through garment production, where is our evaluation?” Sumi questioned.
Tazreen produced for the US giant Walmart, the Spanish department store, El Corte Ingles, the German discount retailer KIK, C&A and Sean John’s Enyce brand.
Other linked brands include Edinburgh Woollen Mill (UK), Karl Rieker (Germany) and Piazza Italia (Italy), Teddy Smith (France) and US brands Disney, Sears, Dickies and Delta Apparel.