HRW spurs int'l brands to compensate Tazreen victims
Human Rights Watch has called upon the brands that were sourcing garments from Tazreen Fashions to immediately join an International Labour Organisation effort to compensate the injured and the families of the dead.
At least 112 garment workers were killed and many injured when fire raged through the garment factory in Ashulia on November 24 last year.
In recent interviews with workers and relatives of two missing workers, many told the New York-based rights organisation that a year after the fire, they had received no compensation, according to a HRW report published Monday.
“One year after the Tazreen fire, victims are still suffering and waiting for adequate compensation,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
“Many retailers with production at the factory have not yet helped a group of very poor workers and their families.”
In the months leading up to the fire, Tazreen’s workers made clothes for prominent international retailers including Walmart, Sears, Karl Reiker, and Teddy Smith.
Each company later said garments were produced at Tazreen without their knowledge.
The HRW wrote letters to these and 16 other companies seeking clarification of their connection with Tazreen, but none have responded, the report said.
Workers interviewed by the organistions said on the day of the fire, Tazreen Fashions was on deadline to fulfill a big order.
Managers, they alleged, initially ordered people to stay at work even after fire alarms sounded.
They also claimed that some factory personnel locked the exits on several floors of the building, while exit routes were blocked by stock prepared for delivery, the report mentioned.
According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have a responsibility “to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations” and also take remedial action should abuses occur.
Meaningful compensation has so far only been provided by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the Bangladesh government, the European retailer C&A, and Li & Fung of Hong Kong, the report said.
But injured workers who received Tk 100,000 (US$1,267) each told the HRW that the money was insufficient and ran out after the first few months, HRW said.
Bangladeshi activists found documents in the factory after the fire which appear to show that Walmart was, indirectly, one of Tazreen’s largest customers, even though it had officially cut ties with the factory after its inspectors uncovered many safety violations a year before.
The documents suggest that intermediaries placed at least six orders with Tazreen on behalf of Walmart in the 12 months leading up to the fire.
At the time of the fire, it appears Tazreen was working on at least two orders for Walmart, documents and garments found at the factory suggest.
Two days after the accident, the company released a statement saying that Tazreen “was no longer authorised to produce merchandise for Walmart” and that a “supplier subcontracted work to this factory without authorization and in direct violation of our policies.”
A serious question also arises as to whether Walmart knew that Tazreen was a fire risk well before the disaster occurred.
A factory inspection, conducted in December 2011 on behalf of NTD Apparel Inc, a Canadian company that supplied Walmart, revealed that Tazreen was in breach of Walmart's safety standards.
Inspectors stated that the factory, which employed more than 1,600 workers and reported an annual turnover of US$36 million, had “inaccessible/insufficient firefighting equipment,” an “inadequate evacuation plan,” and “partially blocked exit, routes, stairwells.”
“Given the scale of the orders, if Walmart had undertaken due diligence about where its clothes were being manufactured it should have known that Tazreen was continuing to supply them,” Adams said.
In the wake of the Tazreen fire and the subsequent collapse of the Rana Plaza building in which more than 1100 workers died, Walmart and other foreign retailers have pledged to improve the fire and building safety of Bangladeshi factories.
They recently announced a joint programme for inspecting factories, and for the first time published some details of the factories that supply them. The companies have not, however, pledged to help other factories in the supply chain, such as subcontractors or textile mills – for instance Aswad Mills, which caught fire in October, killing seven employees.
Walmart, Sears, and other retailers have also not agreed to a compensation package for the Rana Plaza victims.
“Walmart and the other companies need to provide adequate and timely compensation for victims and their families,” Adams said.
“Victims and their families are suffering needlessly while these companies bury their heads in the sand,” he said.
After the fire, government investigators found that the factory was in breach of Bangladeshi fire safety standards.
Its owner insists that the nine-story building was safe – but it had no fire escape, and he was only authorised to have a three-story building.
The factory did not have adequate equipment and procedures to prevent or fight fires.
One worker told HRW that routine fire drills were “ludicrous” as they took place during the lunch break when people were already outside.
Another said that staff were told beforehand when inspections were going to take place and to make sure things looked in order.
The government investigators said that the owner, Delwar Hossain, and nine mid-level managers should be prosecuted for negligence.
In November this year, the police said this had not happened yet as they had not completed their own enquiry.
In April activists filed a case at the Dhaka High Court criticising the authorities for their “inaction” and calling for Hossain’s arrest.
On November 24, the High Court ordered the government to increase the compensation, and extend it to the families of those missing workers whose DNA had recently been traced.
“With proper oversight and inspections, this tragedy could have been avoided,” Adams said.
“Western companies can no longer avoid the fact that people were killed and injured because they were providing cheap labor in unsafe conditions,” he said.