As you may be aware, a huge factory fire took place on Thursday (8th July 2021) at the Hashem Food and Beverage factory in Rupganj, Bangladesh.
At least 52 people were killed in this tragic fire, which forced many workers to leap for their lives from the upper floors, and more than 50 others were injured. Reports suggest that many of the victims were women and children who worked in the factory, with children as young as 11 years old among those unaccounted for.
The Hashem Food and Beverage factory is a subsidiary of Sajeeb Group, a Bangladeshi company that produces juice under Pakistan’s Lahore-based Shezan International. Reportedly the factory complex in question was mainly producing food and beverage products.
The Sajeeb Group seems to have strong ties to international supply chain and businesses. The company exports its products to countries including Australia, the US, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Bhutan, Nepal and nations in the Middle East and Africa. In addition to food and beverage products, the group has involvements in agro-based products, agro-processing, real estate, insurance, electronic media, telecommunications, electronic media business and the ready-made garment business. One such factory is Mermaid Sweaters Ltd, Dhaka, Bangladesh, which is part of the Sajeeb Group and has manufactured clothing for overseas companies.
Their LinkedIn page further states that the company is engaged in the manufacturing and marketing of the products for local and international brands, including Shezan, Tang, Kolson, Nocilla, BournVita and Oreo (brands owned by large international cooperates including Unilever, Lotte and Mondelez). Under the franchise of Shezan International Limited, Sajeeb Group manufacture and markets Shezan products in Bangladesh, as well as Kolson Macaroni, Noodles and Vermicelli under the franchise of Kolson Food LLC (Dubai).
Further details on the tragedy
According to local media reports the factory in Rupganj upazila of Narayanganj, outside the capital Dhaka, was built in violation of basic rules and lacked emergency fire exits and adequate safety measures. Almost 7,000 people work at the factory, and reports suggest that the employment of child labourers at the factory was widespread.
There were only two staircases in the 35,000-square-foot building. Authorities report that many of those who died were trapped inside the building because a main exit was locked. Some workers were able to reach the roof and were rescued after it caught fire on Thursday, but many were unable to escape, according to police, who added that one of the roof’s stairwells was also locked. Abul Hashem, chairman and managing director of Sajeeb Group, has been arrested and faces murder charges. Also arrested on Saturday were the group’s chief executive officer, Shahan Shah Azad, and other senior officials.
The Centre is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life at this factory, and we are alarmed by the extent of child labourers who are reportedly among the victims. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and those injured.
Growing risks for workers and families in Bangladesh
Despite increased monitoring and funding by the Bangladesh Accord and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety in the wake of Rana Plaza, concerns continue to be raised about lapses and interruptions in factory inspections and safety enforcement – both within garment factories and other manufacturing sectors.
According to figures from the Bangladeshi fire services quoted in the Responsible Sourcing Journal, a total of 222 garment factories across the country had fire incidents in 2020. Sixty-six percent of these are export-oriented factories. The number of injured workers in factory related accidents also increased by almost 24 percent in 2020 over the previous year. COVID-19 has constrained factory inspections, which have also been disrupted through transition of agencies responsible for inspections.
Additionally, the pandemic is creating additional pressures for parent workers and families, including a heightened risks of child labour related to school closures and financial hardship faced by families.
This emergency highlights the urgent need for factories in Bangladesh to ensure that premises are built and operated in a way that protects the safety and well-being of their workers. It also illustrates the need for factories to end the practice of employing child labourers, whether through a deliberate intention to employ children or as a consequence of failings in recruitment processes and systems to prevent the hiring of underage workers.
It is vitally important that brands and retailers undertake ongoing due diligence and monitoring to increase transparency and to assess and address child rights, safety and human rights risks at their Bangladeshi suppliers, sub-suppliers and subcontractors. Extra vigilance is required across all sectors in Bangladesh to ensure workers and families are protected and key risks are addressed.
We hope that this tragic accident will act as an urgent reminder for companies, suppliers, governments and others to work together to prevent child labour and address critical safety risks at workplaces in Bangladesh and other sourcing countries.
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