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      Volume 11 |Issue 48| December 07, 2012 |


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The guilty are not responsible (?)


Workers in Bangladesh have to accept any and every form of working condition, however despicable and frightening, because under a situation of normality their socio-monetary situation does not allow them to be choosers. Nor can they voice their distress for fear of being substituted by equally or more needy beings. But they cannot afford non-payment of dues. And so after often months of denial they agitate; togetherness is their strength. The owner then seeks protection from law enforcers, saying they and their kuti-kuti-Taka worth establishment ('a national wealth') are under attack, and that the government is doing nothing to protect the thriving industry, the backbone of our economy, they say. Yes, the industry is thriving because of your (albeit borrowed?) money and their sweat. If you ask me, it is the workers (also national wealth) who should call the police first when they are not being paid their due salary. That sadly does not happen because some other purses are getting filled. Instead, they get beaten up for discovering their strength under distress.

After the fire at Tazreen Fashion garments factory at Ashulia 25 Nov, I have delved into the one vented possibility that the human carnage was a conspiracy to destroy our international market, to cripple our economy, to give advantage to our competitor countries, and ____________ (You may fill that blank and more). Even if any or all of those were reasons for a fire to ignite, it does not absolve the owner from the responsibility of the scores of deaths and injury. Accidental or deliberate, whatever may be the cause of a life-threatening occurrence, the onus of providing a safe place of work falls on the owner.

No one came down from Timbuktu to whisper into the ears of the owner that exit doors of his factory should be kept locked. But the owner understood he would save money, as every open exit door requires a darwan.

No one came down from the Himalayas to compel the designer of the building to provide the entry-exit path of the workers through the warehouse, and for the owner to approve the drawings. But the owner understood he would save space, which translates into money.

No one came down from the heavens to train the angels of death (read supervisors) to turn away fleeing workers from open staircases. But the owner understood he should save a needle even if the haystack burnt.

Three days after the Tazreen fire, its Managing Director admitted to Daily Star's Refayet Ullah Mirdha and Sarwar A Chowdhury that “it was his fault”. And yet till the filing of this report there was no news of the long (or even short) hand of the law knocking on the closed door of the responsible. The nation instead has been kept busy chasing the news of when and where the Tazreen workers will get their salary. Btw, that is their right, their earning, not any hand-out.

The MD also told the DS that “nobody told me that there was no emergency exit which could be made accessible from outside”, and that the “retailer (Wal-Mart) did not complain about the absence of any emergency exit from outside”. He also said that “The (collapsible) gates were never locked. They always remain open.” First of all, the exits, if any, should be accessible from the “inside” for people to escape, and secondly, the dead workers did not lock any gate.

Response of some bloggers to the MD's comments on the DS webpage will clear the smoke.

“No one advised him about emergency exit to outside! And I am sure no one advised him about how to buy land, build building, get loan, procure machinery, contact buyers, run business, open account, buy house, buy cars... “

“You are smart enough to deal with Wal-Mart and sell you garments to the US but you didn't know that there are safety regulations that need to be followed.”

“He is in Garments sector for last twenty years and he is employing thousands of workers and he is expecting that someone should tell him about the factory exit matter.”

It is the same sad scenario after every fatal fire.
The owner acts innocent. What me? Who me? Is it my factory? Are you sure? I thought I had sold it last week. In fact, I will sell it 'last week'. That too is possible.

His business colleagues and association provide unfair support. Is that necessary? Should they not severely castigate the errant owner to save their reputation of the industry? Should they not learn lessons? Should they not realise that the life of a worker is not necessarily worth Taka one lakh?

Newspapers and TV channels provide hot coverage, only to cool down in sync with the dying ember, and the hoarse voice and tired limbs of the protesting workers. Should the media not build awareness when there is no fire? Should the media not highlight working conditions in factories as they do living conditions in city wards?

Let us pray we are wrong that the next Tazreen is just moments away.




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