Capital’s absolute disregard for life once again surfaces in Narayanganj, Bangladesh, where 52 workers have been burnt to death on 9 July 2021, after they were denied exit when fire broke out in the food-processing factory which had almost no fire-safety mechanisms installed. Many more are injured and struggling for life in burn units.
The factory employed child workers as well. The number of children victims is yet to be determined as the bodies are burnt beyond recognition. (https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2021/07/10/narayanganj-factory-fire-many-child-workers-still-missing)
Upon inspection by officials of the fire safety department, more evidence of negligence and non-compliance have emerged. (https://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2021/07/09/hashem-foods-factory-lacked-fire-safety-system-official)
Md. Abul Hashem, chairman and managing director of Sajeeb Group, the corporation that owns the factory, denied any responsibility for the incident. (https://www.thedailystar.net/news/bangladesh/accidents-fires/news/i-didnt-set-the-fire-sajeeb-group-chairman-denies-responsibility-narayanganj-fire-2125891)
However, on 10 July 2021, Mr. Hashem, along with 8 other senior officials of the company were arrested on a murder-case filed by the Bangladesh police in connection with the factory fire. (https://www.thedailystar.net/news/bangladesh/accidents-fires/news/narayanganj-fire-sajeeb-group-chairman-4-sons-among-8-detained-2126436)
This act by the establishment, confirms allegations of “murder by negligence”, raised by conscious citizens in social media.
Individual activists have taken to social media calling for a boycott of products of the Sajeeb Group, which includes beverages and snacks.
However, the prospect of legal battles and individual activism seems dim, as far as the question of ensuring justice goes.
Last year, Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza that collapsed in 2013 and killed more than 1,100 people, was granted bail on a corruption case related to the building collapse. (https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/court/2020/06/08/hc-stays-rana-plaza-owner-sohel-rana-s-bail)
Delwar Hossain, the owner of Tazreen Fashions Limited where a fire killed 117 people in 2012, had also been granted bail on a case related to the fire. (https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/the-sound-and-the-fury/news/why-are-former-tazreen-workers-still-the-streets-1987689)
After more than a month of protest in demand for justice and reparations, the victims of the Tazreen fire were forcefully evacuated from the ground they were staging their sit-in, in December 2020. (https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/the-sound-and-the-fury/news/why-are-former-tazreen-workers-still-the-streets-1987689)
Isn’t justice being delayed? Aren’t reparations being refused?
It would thus be foolish to forgo the culpability of ruling power as a party to capital’s acts of exploitation, negligence and subsequent murders.
Efforts by local and international organizations along with government bodies, for ensuring safety for workers in factory buildings of Bangladesh, have yielded little results:
“The authorities promised better safety standards after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, which killed more than 1,100 workers and injured hundreds in 2013 in Bangladesh’s apparel industry’s biggest disaster.
“The collapse led to better labour conditions and tougher safety rules. But many local industries failed to maintain safety compliance, leading to accidents each year.
“Tragedies of past and present have often been attributed to safety lapses. Deadly fires have plagued Bangladeshi factories – namely apparel fires reached a five-year high in 2020 – showing bad days will not be over if the industry is allowed to return to past practices.
“In 2020, the country saw 383 industrial fires; 273 of them occurred at apparel factories, according to the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.
“Between 2012 and 2019, there were more than 150 fires and other safety incidents connected to Bangladesh’s apparel industry, killing more than 1,300 people, and leaving 3,800-plus people injured, according to the Solidarity Center.
“At least 2,000 workers and other staff died in at least 26 blazes in factories over the past two decades, according to the International Labour Organization.
“The last five years saw 5,834 industrial fire incidents, which caused a financial loss of Tk250 crore. Dhaka division reported the highest industrial fires and Sylhet the lowest, according to the Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence.
“At least 52 people died in a fire Thursday at an industrial building in Narayanganj, the latest industrial disaster in the country.
“In July 2019, six employees of a spinning mill in Gazipur were killed in a factory fire; and 13 in a boiler explosion in 2017 in the same area.
“In January 2015, at least 13 people died in a plastics factory fire in Dhaka.
“In 2016, a fire triggered by a boiler explosion at Tampaco Foils Ltd in Tongi killed at least 25 people. Also, a fire broke out in a sweater factory in Gazipur the same year, killing at least four workers. (https://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2021/07/10/factory-fires-bangladesh-s-recurring-nightmare)
The capitalists regard the workers as mere appendages to factory machineries. No amount of emotional appeal to the capitalists’ “conscience” will change their perception.
Capital knows no mercy. It is a tyrant in pursuit of absolute control; if it makes compromises, it does so only for the time being, so that it can regroup and wage a fiercer counter-attack on the working class; if it appears to be docile, then it does so only because it is honing its knife of treachery.
Without effective resistance from the working class, this tyrant will not stop the slaughtering of workers. History forbids us from doubting the power of workers. But, history does also elicit a sense of urgency among us. We hope this sense of urgency will not go in vain.
Omar Raad Chowdhury is a student of University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.