Prothom Alo illustration

The tragic death of 52 workers in the Hashem Foods inferno at Rupganj has pointed to Bangladesh’s fragile safety system in industrial units. The incident has proved that workers not only at readymade garment industrial units but in all the other industrial sectors of the country work in seriously unsafe conditions. The concerned regulatory bodies seem responsive only when a massive industrial disaster happens. After a few days, the irregularities continue as they were.

Any establishment of industrial units requires complying with terms and conditions including workplace safety, proper communications and safety of the employees. It is crucial that every large-scale factory ensures its own fire safety system.

Hashem Foods, like others, lacked fire safety. How had the factory operated for days with such shortcomings where hundreds of workers worked? What had the labour ministry done?

After the fire incident, officials of fire service and civil defence surprised with the factory environment. Such a factory needs wide staircases or exit routes so that workers can escape any fire incident quickly.

Unfortunately, there were no such of the facilities at Hashem Foods. Even the fire engines had to go down a narrow road to reach the factory for the rescue operations.

Hashem Foods is merely an example of how the Bangladesh-based industrial units are operating. With a few exceptions, almost all the factory owners violate the labour laws and rules. Profits are the high priority to them while workers’ safety gets their gross negligence.

BGMEA has taken many security measures in garments industry amid being pushed by foreign buyers to do so in the aftermath of 2012 Tazreen fire and 2013 Rana Plaza collapse–the two industrial disasters that took hundreds of thousands workers’ life. Working environment has been improved in the garments sector. As a result, no big disaster has taken place after the Rana Plaza collapse. This is good.

However, we need to keep in mind that ready-made garments industry is not the lone industrial sector in Bangladesh. There are thousands of factories in the country where millions of workers work constantly in risky environment. Improvement of the working conditions is a must to ensure security of the workers. The prerequisites for building a factory must be followed.

In a statement issued on Saturday, ILO said it has been collaborating with the government, industry owners, trade unions and development partners to improve working environment across the RMG units. ILO will extend support if there is any initiative to improve working environment at the non-RMG industrial units too.

We welcome the ILO statement. Meanwhile, we request the government and industry owners to inspect all the industrial units and take necessary actions immediately if there are shortfalls.

Negligence by any party is unwarranted when they are liable to ensure workers’ life security. Industry owners have to follow the labour laws to keep their factories running. Workers’ safety must get priority.