Dream left in ashes
Only two days ago, he was an employer of 19,000 workers at his apparel factory complex in Gazipur. But a single mindless act of sabotage has taken Mosharraf Hussain, owner and managing director of Standard Group, to the brink of bankruptcy overnight.
Early Friday, some outsiders burnt valuables worth Tk 1,200 crore of his factory complex -- a nine-storey and a six-storey units -- in Konabari to ashes.
"I am a beggar now," said the 69-year-old as he lost control over his emotions during a press briefing at the BGMEA headquarters in the capital yesterday, nearly 40 hours after the incident.
Mosharraf gave vivid details of the incident, which came as a massive blow to the country's already-under-pressure $20 billion garment industry.
He said that on Thursday, the factory had closed around 8:00pm. Only the washing unit was functional with 200 to 250 workers inside.
Around 10:30pm, some 70 to 80 outsiders began banging on the main gate trying to break into the factory premises. Inside, there were 25 to 30 industrial police who tried to resist the attackers.
At one point, the police had to charge truncheon and fire rubber bullets to drive the troublemakers away. The effort left one of the attackers bullet injured.
The wounded was rushed to Dhaka Medical College Hospital by an ambulance owned by the factory.
Sensing more trouble, the authorities of the factory immediately closed the washing unit.
Later, some people announced on the horn speakers of a nearby mosque, ironically built by Mosharraf himself, that police had killed two workers of the factory. They also urged employees of nearby factories to take to the streets with whatever they had.
The rumour worked. Suddenly, the situation went out of the hands of the two dozen industrial police.
A large number of outsiders entered the factory premises and in a planned way set fire to important points of the two buildings using diesel and petrol so that the flames could burn everything inside, said Mosharraf.
The fire gutted capital machinery, finished garments, fabrics and raw materials housed in more than 8.5 lakh square feet of floor space in the two buildings.
The attackers did not stop there. They torched 22 lorries parked inside the compound that were loaded with products for shipment. They even used logs as barricades to prevent fire engines and police from reaching the spot.
The fire service personnel finally reached the factory around 1:30am, about one and a half hours after the attack, with the help of Rapid Action Battalion. It took more than 16 hours to douse the fire.
"I do not know what my crime is. I am totally at a loss. I will not be able to pay the bank loans, and payments against letters of credit (LC) and back-to-back LCs," said the factory owner.
Mosharraf, who did not put the blame on his workers, said the magnitude of the destruction had totally baffled him.
"If I die today, my two sons will go to jail for not being able to repay the bank loans," he said, urging the BGMEA to devise an exit plan for him.
He also said that since the inception of the factory in 2002, the workers had never suffered from non-payment.
"We have been doing business with globally acclaimed buyers complying with labour laws, and all local rules and regulations," Mosharraf said.
A BSc engineer from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Mosharraf had to be consoled several times as he was shedding tears while reading out a statement.
The BGMEA condemned the fire incident with the strongest of words, and demanded proper and fair investigation, and arrests of the culprits.
Atiqul Islam, president of BGMEA, termed the incident an act of sabotage.
He said Standard Group was one of the most compliant factories in the country. "We refer this factory to buyers for its good reputation."
Atiqul alleged that those who made the announcement from the mosque had held the muezzin hostage by holding a knife on his throat.
On several occasions, horn speakers of mosques had been used to incite people.
"It is not difficult to identify those who were inside the mosque," said Atiqul.
He said this type of incidents have had happened in the sector since 2006, as the previous events had never been investigated properly and none faced justice.
"The buyers are now posing questions whether Bangladesh is becoming what Sri Lanka once used to be."
On November 13 this year, another arson attempt had been made to destroy the same factory, said the BGMEA chief.
He also said that about 20 days ago, they had informed law enforcement agencies about a sand field in Konabari where secret meetings are held to incite people against factory owners.
Atiqul demanded that the government provide the garment sector with fool-proof security. Otherwise, he projected, the sector would not survive.
Former president of BGMEA Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin criticised the law enforcement agencies for their failure in preventing the incident at the factory.
Standard Group employs about 50,000 people in its 23 production units. Annually it exports garment products worth nearly $ 325 million with more than 13 percent year-on-year export growth.
Its clients include American Eagle, GAP, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, KOHL'S, Sears, Abercrombie and Fitch and Gymboree, according to the website of the group.