Deaths in Narayanganj fire caused by gross negligence
Owners of the factory must be held liable
It is hard to label the painful deaths of at least 52 workers and staff members in Thursday’s fire in the Hashem Foods factory in Narayanganj as a random accident and not the result of gross negligence and violation of factory safety laws. So far it has not been established yet what exactly caused the fire. What we do know however, is that the supervisor on the third floor told the workers to stay on the floor as the room was air conditioned and they were safe and that when workers realised this was not the case and tried to escape, they found the only exit locked. Many of the employees went to the rooftops and jumped in sheer desperation, three of them dying in the attempt.
Just from the first reports of the disaster we have already learnt enough to see how little thought was given to the safety of employees. According to officials in the fire department, there was no fire escape exit, the only staircase available was very narrow and the only exit in the third floor of the building was locked. From preliminary observations the fire department officials have said there did not seem to be any fire-fighting equipment or any fire alarm system. The floors were full of flammable materials such as cartons and paper rolls as well as combustible materials such as oil, chemicals, poly packs, foil papers, and plastic bottles. So wouldn’t it be a priority to make sure that there are at least the minimum level of safety measures in case of a fire that would definitely spread given the storage of such inflammable materials?
It is appalling how little owners of this factory value human lives from their remarks to the media. From the reports as well as the footage it seems there were minors working in the factory which violates the labour law. But the reality is that the pandemic has forced many poor families to send their children (whose schools are closed) for all kinds of work just to be able to survive. The owners of the factory have indicated they didn’t know children had been employed. Is it not their responsibility to know? Isn’t it their moral obligation apart from the legal compliance, to make sure that the factories where so many employers are working, have the minimum safety measures so that they can at least escape a fire or other disaster? Should not these employers be held responsible for the exit door on the third floor being locked? Of course they must.
It is reprehensible that after so many factory fire incidents—Tazreen Fashion (122 deaths), KTS Composite (65 deaths), Tampaco Oil (36 deaths), to name a few—that have cost lives, in many cases because of lack of safety measures being in place, these horrific events continue. In most instances families of workers who have died or workers who have been seriously injured, do not get adequate or any compensation nor justice in the form of punishment of those responsible. We hope that the three probe committees formed by various government bodies will come up with clear answers about how the fire started and why there were so many casualties. But there is no question that the owners of the factory are responsible for gross negligence and complete apathy for the safety of their workers that led to so many deaths.