Dear journalist brothers and sisters,
Many garment workers died on the evening of November 24th when fire broke out in Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia’s Nischintapur. The exact death toll is still unknown. According to the government, 112 workers had died but many family members were unable to identify their beloved ones as the flesh had burnt away leaving behind only charred bones and skeletons. Fifty three unidentified bodies have been buried in Jurain graveyard. But several investigative reports have concluded that the death toll is higher. Some of us have conducted preliminary research in Nischintapur’s Buripara at our own initiative, and, we too, have been forced to reach the same conclusion. The government and the BGMEA should immediately have launched a serious drive to ascertain the exact number of those who have died, but instead they displayed a callous indifference which amounts to nothing short of criminal negligence.
The government and the BGMEA are also guilty of creating smokescreens, despicably aimed at letting the owner of Tazreen Fashions off the hook and, reducing the likelihood of compensation claims:
(i) the families of those workers who jumped to their death have not been given any compensation,
(ii) the families of many dead workers have not been given compensation because they have been unable to identify their loved one’s body. But who is to blame for the inability of family members to recognise charred bones and skeletons?
(iii) BGMEA’s propaganda machinery led many to think that getting a DNA test is easy but since they have not set up a helpline or a volunteer service, distraught relatives have come to Dhaka from distant corners of the country, many have returned home without getting a DNA test done because they didn’t know who or where to turn to, they returned home penniless because the hard-earned meagre amount they brought with them was swallowed up by the capital city’s hugely expensive transport and food costs (iv) settling on DNA tests as being the technique for identifying unidentified bodies has led to the owner of Tazreen Fashions being cleverly let off from publicly revealing the list of workers (names, how many) working on the shift when fire broke out. Why? Is it because public revelation of the list will expose death tolls to have been higher? (v) the government decision that DNA tests are the technique for identifying dead workers leads one to assume that those who test positive are the rightful claimant(s) to the compensation money, but what happens in the case of married dead workers? DNA tests identify those who, in kinship terms, are are related by blood; does this mean that the compensation money will be given only to natal family members, i.e., father, mother, brother, sister? What about the claims of the dead worker’s spouse? In order to protect the owner of Tazreen Fashions, the adoption of the DNA technology is likely to create tensions and disunity among family members, already shattered at the death of their loved one(s). This, in our opinion, is deliberate (vi) Tazreen’s owner/BGMEA have justified many of the actions they have taken on the basis of preventing false claims, this is nothing but a ruse to avoid compensation claims.
A close review of the whole situation makes it obvious that they are taking the worst affected, i.e., family members of dead workers — for a “ride.” This is utterly despicable.
Crimes have been committed at every step after the factory fire broke out at Tazreen; those involved are the BGMEA, particularly its leaders, the owners of Tazreen Fashions and, high officials in government ministries and departments. To protest against these crimes, we entered the BGMEA’s headquarters today; we put on shrouds and wailed as we played the audio recording of a sister of a dead Tazreen worker wailing at her loss. We left the offices after leaving behind our handbills.
The huge loss of lives at Tazreen has shocked people the world over. Garments factories in Bangladesh have been termed “death traps” (New York Times, November 25, 2012). A “scandal” for the fashion industry (Guardian, December 5, 2012). This is deeply insulting, for us, as citizens of this country, and for Bangladesh as a whole. Neither the government nor the BGMEA nor our own fashion industry has anything honest to offer as defense.
We belong to middle class families. As intelligent and conscientious women, we know that many more are implicated. The emergence of the garment sector in Bangladesh was accompanied by the rise of the fashion industry. The adoption of the privatisation policies of the World Bank and the IMF has led to the rapid expansion of the entertainment and advertising industries, of beauty parlors and boutiques. The activities and initiatives undertaken by apparently disparate organisations in actuality meld and create the dreams and aspirations of most middle class women today. They make us forget that the dreams peddled to women of being “beautiful” and “smart” are class-ed ones. They make us forget that the market economy sows only the value of “competition”, nothing else. Far worse, their collaborative activities have created a world of luxury and consumption which prevents us from hearing the cries of our sisters working in the garment industry. Many women who are older to us, who should have been our role models, totally ignore the issue of class inequality; they haven’t 80% of workers at Tazreen were women, but the former haven’t used what occurred at Tazreen to counter the government, the BGMEA and global capital’s rhetoric of “female empowerment.” They too, would like us to believe that class inequality is irrelevant.
ASK’s human rights report 2012
Dear journalist brothers and sisters,
For Bangladeshis, December heralds the month when we achieved victory after a nine month long liberation struggle. December is also the Begum Rokeya month for she died on December 9, 1932. We want to remind both men and women of the ruling class, through your assistance as members of the media, that women didn’t give up their lives and everything else of value in ’71, so that only a small group of people could be independent.
Our language of protest is different. It is non-violent. We promise to continue our surprise protests until the BGMEA and garment owners come to their senses.
We request your help in propagating our ideas to counter the veil of lies spun by the owner of Tazreen, the BGMEA and the government. To make people, particularly privileged women, think and feel, the sufferings of their toiling sisters.
Tazreen Fashion workers did not die accidentally, they were killed:
- There was no fire exit
- Even though the Fire Safety Certificate had expired,the factory was kept running
- The factory gates were locked after the fire began
- The factory owner has not yet been arrested, whenever factory fires occur, BGMEA, with its enormous wealth and power, rushes to protect killer factory-owners
- We demand that the actual death toll be revealed
- Compensation of 40 lakh taka, in accordance with the laws of the land, be awarded for each dead worker
- Immediate arrest and trial of the factory-owner
- Fundamental changes in the philosophy and agenda of the BGMEA
Justice for Tazreen’s workers — Rokeya Bahini
Organised by Rokeya Bahini
11:00 am, Wednesday, December 12, 2012
In front of BGMEA Bhaban, Panthopoth Link Road, Karwan Bazar