[Bangladesh] Tazreen Fire: JS body trashes BGMEA probe. Says report aimed to protect factory owner


The parliamentary watchdog on labour yesterday rejected a probe by the garment industry lobby group on the deadly fire at Tazreen Fashions, saying it was biased and intended to protect the factory owner.

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) in the probe report says the fire on November 24 last year-- the deadliest the country has ever witnessed -- was pre-planned.

"The report is a manifestation of their nonsensical and irresponsible nature," said Israfil Alam, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on labour and employment ministry, at a programme at CIRDAP auditorium in the capital.

A non-government organisation, Bangladesh Occupational Safety Health and Environment Foundation organised the event to launch its own probe report on the inferno that killed at least 112 garment workers.

The fire was described as an act of sabotage in the BGMEA report unveiled on December 31, just to shift the blame, the ruling party lawmaker said.

When the lobby group made such a claim, they should have also said who were behind the sabotage, he added. And if it was an act of sabotage, it could not be made possible by mid-level officials without any assistance from the owner.

Israfil also demanded that BGMEA members be grilled in this connection.

"The garment factory owners are yet to become humans. They are sill owners of garment industries."

They were trying to divert attention by insisting that the fire had been premeditated, Israfil said.

"But such acts of sabotage never take place at the BGMEA building or at your homes. Do all acts of sabotage only occur at factories?"

The BGMEA's conclusion, however, matched the view of a government probe committee headed by an additional secretary of the home ministry.

"Whoever is claiming that it was an act of sabotage has to prove himself right," Israfil later told The Daily Star by phone.

It was unfortunate that nobody could identify 56 workers, who had been burnt beyond recognition, he said.

The owners do business worth billions of dollars but they do not maintain a database. Tazreen Fashions did not have a list of its workers and their pictures, the chief of the parliamentary watchdog said, "as a result, we are unable to pay compensation."

Delwar Hossain, the factory owner, has not been arrested yet for the killing of 112 workers though he publicly took the responsibility for the fire.

The ruling party lawmaker also cited that the US government had taken a formal step to stop providing duty-free access to Bangladeshi products.

"Bangladesh will not be able to retain the Generalised System of Preference facility if it does not reform laws and improve working environment. We have no time to waste," Israfil said.

Abu Nayeem Md Shahidullah, director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said the owner of Tazreen Fashions did not know if it had any safe exit.

"This ignorance itself is a breach of law."

The probe report unveiled by Bangladesh Occupational Safety Health and Environment Foundation yesterday says the fire incident was an accident.

The fire had broken out in the warehouse on the factory's ground floor where all the three stairs of the building converged. Besides, there was no emergency exit.

Although the fire alarm went off on time, the factory managers did not allow the workers to leave the building. As a result, the number of casualties went up, according to the report.