At least 53 workers have died and many more have been injured in a fire that raged through the Hashem Foods factory in Rupganj, near Dhaka. Given that a large number of children were illegally employed as child labour in the factory, the actual number of deaths and injuries remains unknown. Relatives are still searching for missing workers, mostly women and girls.
- Fueled by the highly flammable chemicals and plastics stored in the factory, the fire which started on July 8, burned for two days. Initial investigations confirm that doors on at least two floors were locked, the main gate was locked, and children as young as 11 years old were working in the factory. In a desperate attempt to escape the flames, some workers were forced to jump from the upper floors of the six-storey building
- Hashem Foods, part of the Sajeeb Group of companies, produces branded goods including Oreo, Tang and Cadbury Bournvita – brands which are owned by Mondelēz. However, the page on the company’s website confirming these relationships was taken down within hours of reports of the fire
- IUF affiliates in Bangladesh responded rapidly to the disaster. They formed the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee and are calling for an independent investigation into the violation of workers’ rights, including health and safety rights at the Hashem Foods factory as well all factories operated under Sajeeb Group and to take legal action against those responsible
- The Justice Committee also demanded that the costs of all necessary medical treatment be met and compensation paid to the injured workers and the families of deceased workers
- The IUF is calling on global companies that have a business relationship with Hashem Foods to support demands for a full investigation into the fire, to commit to pay compensation, and to work with the IUF to find effective solutions to the long-running, widespread occupational health and safety issues in Bangladesh’s food factories
“This callous disregard for human life in food factories in Bangladesh has been going on for too long and must stop. Employers can ignore health and safety laws and disregard post-Rana Plaza measures because they can so easily suppress the right to freedom of association and create a climate of fear. Add extreme poverty to this fear and we have the appalling situation in food factories where children as young as 11 years old are exploited as child labour. Now these children, along with adult workers, have been killed as a direct result of the systematic repression of workers’ rights. It must stop!” declared IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Secretary, Hidayat Greenfield.
Photo Credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters