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The beginning of an end

THE acceptance by a senior judicial magistrate in Dhaka on Tuesday of charges of ‘committing homicide by negligence’ against the managing director and 12 other top executives of Tazreen Fashions Limited over the death of more than 100 workers in a deadly fire at its Ashulia factory on November 24, 2012 has set in motion a legal and judicial process that could have a far-reaching implication for the apparel sector in particular and the industrial sector in general. According to a report published in New Age on Wednesday, the magistrate also issued the warrants for arrest of the managing editor and five others, including his wife, who are shown as ‘absconding’ in the list of accused in the Criminal Investigation Department’s charge sheet. The officers-in-charge of the relevant police stations have been asked to submit reports on the execution of the warrants by February 25.
The fire at the Tazreen factory may have been the most devastating in terms of the lives lost but was in no way one of its kind; there had been such incidents before and also since, and it is entirely likely that there would be more. It goes without saying that, while each such incident raised furore, followed by tough posturing by the government of the day, there has still not been any comprehensive plan or sustained action to address the cause and context of such accidents. The apparel sector remains one of the most exploitative industries in Bangladesh where a majority of workers work not only for poor pay but also under extremely unsafe working conditions. While most of the accidents in the sector have been attributed to the employers’ negligence and indifference to workplace safety, any effective redress to the situation has not been forthcoming. Little wonder then that, within six months of the Tazreen fire, the worst industrial accident in Bangladesh took place when Rana Plaza collapsed on April 24, 2013, leaving more than 1,100 people killed, mostly workers of five clothing factories housed in the eight-storey structure.
Different quarters believe that such sustained apathy to workplace safety boils down to the absence of any punitive measures against the owners of the ill-fated factories. In fact, there seems to be a widespread perception that the ruling class may have actually sought to protect these factory owners because they belong to the affluent section of society. The Awami League-led government’s not-so-subtle attempt to portray the Tazreen fire as ‘an act of sabotage’ and ‘planned arson’ may have only reinforced such perception.
In any case, now that the legal and judicial process against the top executives of Tazreen Fashions has been set in motion, one expects effective prosecution and transparent trial that will culminate in the conviction of the people responsible and their punishment. If it so happens, not only justice will be done but also a prohibitive legal precedent will be set that will ultimately help make apparel factory owners more serious and sincere about workplace safety and thus prevent recurrence of such tragedies.

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