Tazreen victims in the street: let their voices be heard
The tragic accident of Tazreen Fashions—a garment factory in Bangladesh—that took place on November 24 in 2012 was a major industrial accident in the global apparel value chain.
The accident caused deaths to 117 workers and injury to over 200 workers - a major governance failure of the apparel value chain.
Even such a tragic accident was overshadowed when a much bigger accident took place five months later on April 24, 2013 at the Rana Plaza. Both the incidences have shaken the global apparel value chain system and forced the key stakeholders to undertake necessary reform, restructuring and remediation measures primarily targeting Bangladesh.
After eight years of extensive initiatives by major stakeholders, the apparels sector of Bangladesh has become better compliant in terms of workplace safety and security.
Despite those achievements, the victims of the Tazreen accident and their family members are still found in the street. Since September 2020, these workers have stayed in front of the Dhaka Press Club and have demanded medical treatment facilities for injured workers, financial support for victims' families and assurance of decent living for unemployed injured workers.
Those demand had been raised over the years, but did not get adequate attention from concerned stakeholders. The question is - why the victims and their families have raised these issues now which were supposed to be met few years back when the victims of Rana Plaza tragedy had received financial support and treatment facilities for their injured workers.
Overall, the demands raised by Tazreen victims in such a way that it is important to take due attention to their demands. Most importantly, their demands and voices need to be heard by the key stakeholders in the value chain, including the government, the associations (i.e. BGMEA), the brands and the sourcing countries.
In November 2015, after three years of Tazreen accident, the Tazreen Claims Administration Trust was established under an agreement between major brands and global trade unions. A total of $2.5 million was paid to the victims and their families. Apart from the financial support, the Trust has been providing necessary treatment facilities for the injured workers.
According to the Tazreen Trust, a total of 172 injured workers have been registered to the Trust, of which two died. Some 114 workers who required treatment have been provided necessary medical support.
The trust has arranged a total of 8,613 sessions/appointments with specialised doctors, made arrangement to get admitted to hospitals and to do necessary diagnosis, surgery and physiotherapy. Those who needed support equipment, spectacles and medicine have been arranged by the Trust. All workers who treated received transport costs for commuting for treatment.
According to the Trust, this treatment facility will continue till workers need this. Besides 83 injured workers received annual medical checkup done by specialised doctors.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, these workers received treatment support through telemedicine facility arranged by government's a2i programme.
Even workers, who couldn't be registered due to a lack of valid documents and their claims were rejected, have also been provided with treatment facilities under special consideration.
A tripartite board chaired by an additional secretary (administration) of the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) facilitates supporting workers under special consideration. Overall, the Trust has spent a total of Tk 20.5 lakh till date for the injured workers.
The question is if the treatment facility was so well-arranged, then why Tazreen victims and their families demonstrate for the last 66 days only to get ensured their treatment and financial support.
There seems to have a gap between what is being claimed and what is being provided under the facilities.
First, the victims and their families are not fully aware about the facilities provided by the Trust. The Trust need to regularly in touch with each of the injured workers about their physical and mental condition and thereby should provide necessary facilities.
Second, the facilities are not adequate to the requirement of all injured workers – both registered and unregistered. It is important to register all unregistered injured workers who have minimum valid documents/identification/verification evidence available for ensuring their treatment facilities.
Third, treatment facility seems to be inadequate to ensure better physical condition to all those injured workers (even those registered ones).
Otherwise there are at least seven workers who participated in the demonstration would permanently be disabled unless proper treatment is ensured soon.
In other words, the treatment process currently in operation for injured workers needs to be revisited. Most important aspect to review is - whether the treatment facilities adequately covered the need of the injured workers. Based on the review, necessary upgrading of the treatment facilities need to be made for all injured workers – both registered and unregistered.
Such challenges of the injured workers reiterate the need for establishment of Employment Injury Insurance (EII) for the injured workers. Despite discussion for initiating the EII scheme for the RMG sector in 2015, the necessary preparatory works have yet to be completed. It is alleged that employers expressed limited interest to test run of the scheme in the RMG factories.
It was earlier decided to test run this from June, 2020, due to Covid-19 pandemic this test run remain halted. More importantly, the sector confronted a new reality due to the pandemic with limited financial ability.
In this backdrop, the proposed insurance scheme needs to be revisited. However, the scheme needs to be initiated as quickly as possible targeting to avoid unwanted situation for the injured workers in case of accidents in the future.
Injured workers of Tazreen accident have also demanded decent living in view of a lack of employment opportunity for them. A number of workers either disabled or have confronted psychological problems and unable to work in normal working environment.
There is limited employment opportunities for these workers particularly for those who are disabled. The limited financial support provided to them under the support scheme is unable to meet their livelihood needs.
This demands introduction of insurance scheme for these injured workers who are unable to work. More specifically, workers should get benefit of unemployment insurance benefit which could cover short-and medium-term financial requirements in case workers get unemployed due to different reasons, including occurrence of accidents as happened in Tazreen Fashions' garment factory.
The writer is the research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).