Enraged by a rumour that police killed two factory staff, garment workers torched six units of an apparel maker of repute in Konabari of Gazipur early yesterday causing a massive damage worth hundreds of crore taka.
Witnesses said in the wee hours of yesterday, some people announced through the horn speakers of a nearby mosque that police had killed two workers in the Standard Group factory for demanding a separate pay structure for the employees in the group's jumper factory.
Hearing the announcement, at least 200 workers of Standard Group along with some non-workers stormed and torched the company's three multi-storied buildings, brushing aside the policemen on duty at the gates.
The workers also torched 13 lorries parked inside the compound that were loaded with goods waiting for shipment.
Firefighters around 1:30pm yesterday were able to douse the flames in the three buildings that housed six factories, said Akteruzzaman Liton, a deputy assistant director of Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.
Locals and workers claimed that at least 20 workers were injured in the incident but police denied the allegation.
Shawkat Kabir, an industrial police inspector of Gazipur, said, “Nobody died during the incident. The police opened fire to disperse the workers, but nobody was injured.”
Mosharraf Hussain, owner and managing director of the family-run Standard Group, told The Daily Star over the telephone, “I am shocked. I am almost finished. I do not know what to do now. The loss will exceed Tk 900 crore.”
“The fabrics, machinery, buildings, products awaiting shipment and other raw materials have all been burnt to ashes,” he said.
“I have little to do with my buyers. The buyers will have to wait for their goods. I do not know how I will pay the bank loan and supply the buyers timely,” Mosharraf said.
According to the website of the group, it supplies to some internationally renowned retailers and brands, including American Eagle, GAP, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, KOHL'S, Sears, Abercrombie and Fitch and Gymboree.
Mosharraf said two of the buildings were six-storied and one 12-storied with around 70,000 square feet of floor space on each floor. The now burnt down buildings used to provide 20,000 people with employment.
The entirely export-oriented group employed around 50,000 people in its 23 production units.
“The group exports garment products worth nearly $325 million annually with more than 13 percent year-on-year export growth,” said Mosharraf, who began his business in 1984 with a small factory in a rented building in Kalabagan.
Unlike workers of other production units of Standard Group, who receive wages set by the government, employees of its jumper factories get salaries based on the number of product the individual produces.
Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, termed the incident an act of sabotage.
“Standard Group is one of the most compliant factories in Bangladesh. We refer this factory to buyers for its good reputation,” Atiqul said.
“Generally, people do not believe us when we call any incident an act of sabotage, but the fire incident at the Standard Group proves that vested quarters are active to destroy the country's garment sector,” said Mohammad Hatem, acting president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
A seven-member probe committee led by additional district magistrate of Gazipur Mohammad Mohsin was formed and it will submit its report within the next seven working days.