Bankrupt owner laments ignoring compliance
Once Delwar Hossain was a very busy businessperson having to travel frequently, getting breakfast in Paris and dinner in London, with his Western buyers.
Now he goes to and fro over Dhaka's streets trying to manage money to pay back his Tk 150 crore bank loan.
But he does not pass the busy times of the past as the owner of Tazreen Fashions which burned down in a devastating fire on November 24, 2012 is out of business. The fire changed the life of this successful businessman.
“I have even transferred my three children from a highly rated English medium school to another school as I cannot pay the high monthly tuitions,” Hossain told The Daily Star recollecting the tragic fire on its fifth anniversary.
All this happened because of non-compliance to regulations of running a garment factory. And it was his ignorance to compliance.
The exit was locked during the factory fire in Ashulia, some 35 kilometres north-west from the capital. Unable to come out, workers kept groping around in thick black smoke originating from burning stocks of mélange fabrics.
Some of those who did manage to come down from the second floor found themselves trapped as the open space on the ground floor was filled with stockpiles of fabrics.
At least 113 workers met a fiery end. Many children lost their fathers and mothers, many their wives, others their sons and daughters.
Every garment factory owner needs to be compliant to the rules to save workers' lives, now admits a repentant Hossain. He was kept in jail for around seven months till August 2014 before coming out on bail from the High Court.
Tazreen Fashion is one of the seven garment factories which, along with two printing factories, were under Tuba Group. In 2012, the parent company exported apparel items worth over $48 million (nearly Tk 400 crore).
Once employing 12,000 workers in different units, Hossain said he exported garments worth $38 million in 2011 and $33 million in 2010.
“In a final attempt at re-establishing myself in the business, I employed 1,000 workers in a small factory in the city's Badda area but failed,” he said.
“Finally I rented out 56,000 square feet of space to two garment exporters in October this year,” he added while narrating his attempts at repaying the bank loan and meeting day-to-day expenditures.
The two exporters have already begun production in the factory.
Locals said Hossain has also been trying to sell off a piece of land near the Badda factory. A signboard confirmed this during a visit to the factory site yesterday.
“Had not the fire occurred, the export value of my group would have exceeded $100 million by this time,” said the 48 year old man.
Hossain said he got his Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1988 and came to Dhaka from Jamalpur the next year to get a job and change his fate. He got a job as a senior officer the same year in a small export-oriented garment factory in Gulshan.
Within some years he got promoted as a general manager before establishing a small factory of his own in Gulshan 1 in 2004.
“My business flourished very fast as the buyers favoured me a lot. The profit was also very high, although it has declined to its lowest now due to fierce competition among manufacturers,” said Hossain.
He plans to get back into the business from January next year but declined to elaborate.
He said he would first repay debts with banks and other relatives and with the Bangladesh Garment Manufac-turers and Exporters Association, which paid the salaries at one of his units while he was in prison.
The consequences of Hossain's ignorance to compliance are much bigger as Bangladesh, the second largest garment exporter after China, has been suffering from an image crisis in the international community.
Not only that, the Rana Plaza building collapse in Savar, the nation's deadliest, just six months after the fire triggered the US to withdraw duty-free benefits for the country under the Generalised System of Preferences.
Moreover, the European Union retailers and brands formed the Accord while the North American retailers and brands formed the Alliance to inspect and remediate garment factories of Bangladesh.
Trade union leaders marked the fire's fifth anniversary with demands that Hossain be handed down exemplary punishment for the lives lost due to his ignorance.
Mushrefa Mishu, president of Garment Sramik Oikko Forum, held a press conference demanding the punishment.
The two industrial incidents caused innumerable losses. Tazreen Claims Administration Trust has paid around Tk 17 crore to 582 beneficiaries of the victims.