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Creating Accountability in the Garments Sector

Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury |
Update: 2014-05-03 06:07:00
Creating Accountability in the Garments Sector

May Day is international workers day and it is celebrated in Bangladesh widely. However, rights of the labors are often ignored in many industries in Bangladesh and garment sector is certainly one of them. 

Many readers might have noticed that US Senator Robert Menendez has recently expressed his concern about garment industry on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy. He has urged not only the government but BGMEA also to take steps to end the suppression of fledgling unions of RMG workers to help keep 'Made in Bangladesh' brand shine globally.

If we take the example of Tazreen, most of the readers would still be able to recall the day. It was on November 24, 2012 when a fire broke out in the ground floor of the multi-storey building of Tazreen and quickly engulfed other floors. However, the management of Tazreen initially barred evacuation and left many workers trapped inside. A number of 112 workers were either burnt to death or died while trying to escape the blaze.

Several safety measures were made mandatory in Bangladesh Labour Law of 2006. According to Section 62(1) of the law, there must be an alternative exit with a stair connecting all the floors of the factory building. It is strictly prohibited to lock the exit as mentioned in Section 62(3).  Authority of Tazreen made a serious violation of the law and prevented labourers from evacuating the building even after the alarm rang out. Rather, they switched off the alarm and persisted workers to carry out their regular duties.  The fire took around 30 minutes to spread, while it should have taken far lesser time for the workers to evacuate the factory if they were allowed.

Following a writ petition, the HC on May 19 asked the government to explain why it should not be directed to prosecute Tazreen owner Delwar for his alleged negligence in protecting the workers from fire. Delwar appeared before the HC at every hearing on the petition in line with a court order. Later In June 2013, a probe body formed by the home ministry submitted a report to the HC, saying there was “unpardonable neglect” on the part of the owner. Subsequently, owners and other accomplices have been charged under Section 304 and 304(a) of the Penal Code.  The charge of death due to negligence was included in the case later along with that of sabotage by arson. 

It has been stated in Section 304 of the Penal Code, “Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine, if the act by which the death is caused is done with intention of causing death, or of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death; or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death”.

Punishment for causing death by negligence has been elaborated in the next section. “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both”- said in Section 304 (A) of the Penal Code.

To recapitulate, several measures have been taken to improve work safety condition and the minimum wage has been increased in the garments sector. The Labor Law has been amended last year and there is a requirement that factories with more than 5,000 workers have a clinic. A lower threshold (of 100 workers as compared to 200 before) above which factories are also required to offer compulsory group insurance.  Despite all the progresses, relatives of deceased garment workers are still to get justice though. 

Miles to go in order to bring accountability in the garments sector.

The writer is a human rights worker. 

BDST: 1607 HRS, MAY 03, 2014

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