One year on, compensation still eludes Tazreen victims
Flowers left on the grave of Shahnaz Akter Joly in Jurain, Dhaka. Joly perished along with 111 others in the Tazreen factory fire exactly a year ago. None of the victims or their relatives are yet to receive any compensation. Photo: Anisur Rahman
The Tazreen fire victims are yet to receive any compensation one year after the industrial disaster, one of the worst in the country's history, owing to mainly American retailers' refusal to do so.
Not only that, Delwar Hossain, owner of Tuba Group, the parent company of Tazreen Fashions, remains at large despite the filing of two cases and a writ petition were filed against him.
“This is disgusting,” Roy Ramesh Chandra, general secretary of the local arm of IndustriALL, a global union federation, said about the retailers' resistance towards committing money for the $6 million compensation programme for Tazreen survivors and families.
Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, said the response from “some European brands” has been “good”, but so far “none of the American retailers have agreed to pay a single penny” for compensation.
The US retail giant Wal-Mart has been singled out for criticism. Production documents recovered after the Tazreen fire indicate that 55 percent of the factory's production two months prior to the incident on November 24, was for Wal-Mart contractors.
The line of reasoning put forward for not participating in the compensation effort being that the Wal-Mart-related production at Tazreen was unauthorised.
“Wal-Mart is one company that is showing an astonishing lack of responsibility, considering that so much of their product was being made at the Tazreen factory,” Samantha Maher, a campaign coordinator for the British arm of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a European anti-sweatshop group, told The New York Times.
Another such retailer with no intention of providing monetary aid for Tazreen victims is Sears, and its line of reasoning is the same as Wal-Mart's: that an unauthorised contractor had been producing on its behalf at Tazreen.
Some industry analysts say Wal-Mart, Sears and other American retailers are reluctant to join the compensation efforts because they fear it could be seen as an admission of wrongdoing, perhaps leading to legal liability.
Some also say the Americans fear they will look hypocritical if they contribute to a compensation fund after they asserted that any production done for them in the factory was unauthorised.
To date, families of 97 of the 112 who died in the fire at the factory in Ashulia were given a little above Tk 7 lakh from the Prime Minister's fund and other organisations, according to Chandra.
The families of the 15 deceased in the fire were not remunerated as their identities could not be traced, he added.
“But this is not compensation. We are demanding a package in terms of 'loss of earnings' as recommended by ILO, so that the victims' dependents can continue a standard life.”
As for the 140 severely injured workers, “no one is taking care of them”.
Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manu-facturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the garment makers' platform, said the incidences of Tazreen fire and Rana Plaza collapse were an imperative lesson for all.
“We started a new journey in the garment sector after that,” he said, while citing the factory inspections for both for structural integrity and fire and electrical safety as a legacy of the incidents.
“By December 2014, we want to deliver a good message to the world that we have done something extraordinary on fire and building safety as every stakeholder is working together to strengthen the fire and building safety.”
Delwar Hossain could not be contacted despite several attempts for his comments.
Meanwhile, a US Senate report urged Wal-Mart, Gap and other retailers to respect labour unions in Bangladesh, saying workers desperately needed greater rights after hundreds died in fires.
The staff report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Democratic Party majority came as Bangladesh's government and foreign retailers agreed to start safety inspections on the 3,500 factories.
For the workers, Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the committee, said: “We should not rest until these individuals are given the rights they deserve and the tools they need to protect themselves.”
"No consumer will want to wear clothing if it's stained by the blood of innocent workers," Menendez said in a statement.
“One year ago, the world woke up to the horror caused by unsafe working conditions for Bangladesh's garment workers,” Menendez said commenting on the Tazreen fire.
The senator, who in June chaired a hearing on the country's labour issues, joined other senators in calling on the administration to suspend preferential trade status to Bangladesh. The Obama administration suspended trade privileges for Bangladesh on June 27.