After the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, considered the world’s worst garment factory disaster, it was expected that the global scrutiny would lead to improved labour conditions in Bangladesh. Yet as the fires in Chawkbazar (claiming 70 lives) and, most recently, in Keraniganj show, workplace dangers persist despite the initiatives taken to make factories safer. There are still unauthorised and overheated factories operating in unsafe buildings. The fire at the Prime Plate and Plastic Industries Ltd factory in Keraniganj on Wednesday killed at least 14 workers. The number may rise as many are still in critical condition. The fire was ostensibly caused by a gas cylinder explosion. Worryingly, reports on how the building housing the factory was “primed” for a disaster tell us that the lack of oversight responsible for previous factory disasters was also there, and all warnings were similarly ignored.
We note with discomfort the similarities between the contributing factors of past and present disasters. In case of the Keraniganj fire, not only was the plastic factory unauthorised and non-compliant, it was also located in a densely populated area. The said building had a prison-life structure, with only one gate as opposed to six large rooms inside and no fire exits whatsoever. Survivors told The Daily Star that it was difficult to get out of the building as smoke engulfed all the rooms and it was nearly impossible to see and breathe in there, which they blamed for the high number of casualties. Moreover, a fire service team had inspected the factory in June and gave three months’ time to the factory management to install safety measures but no follow-up inspection was made to ensure compliance.
The failure of the concerned authorities to take preventive measures—even after the factory had witnessed two other fire incidents this year alone—proves that it is still business-as-usual for them. This is totally unacceptable. A continuation of this approach at the expense of the lives of general workers makes them not just complicit, but also culpable. We urge the government to hold to account those greedy businessmen exploiting the workers and officials in charge of ensuring building and workplace safety, so that the safety codes are followed properly and no lives are lost under such unfortunate circumstances.