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Tuesday, December 4, 2012
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Trade unions urge Walmart

Bilkis Begum, a worker of Tazreen Fashions, shows the photo of her deceased daughter Munni Akhter at Nishchintapur Primary School ground at Nischintapur of Ashulia yesterday. Bilkis went there to register their names to receive wages. A deadly blaze at the garment factory on November 24 claimed at least 111 lives. Photo: Sk Enamul Haq

Three trade unions yesterday demanded that US retailer Walmart compensate the families of those who were killed or injured in a deadly fire at Tazreen Fashions Ltd in Ashulia on November 24.

Walmart is one of the foreign buyers of Tazreen Fashions, a subsidiary of the Tuba Group, according to its website. Its other clients include Carrefour and IKEA.

Apart from compensations, the unions in a letter asked Walmart to bear all expenses of the required treatment of the injured.

An official of the local office of Walmart confirmed that they received the memorandum.

Leaders of the workers' rights groups requested the world's largest retailer not to stop outsourcing to Bangladeshi factories. Cancellation of orders would only add to the plight of garment workers, leaving many of them jobless.

"So, you should come to a solution and change your decision," the memorandum said.

The letter pleaded with Walmart to use its influence to ensure that the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining is respected in its supply chain.

Walmart is the largest buyer of Bangladesh's readymade garment products, purchasing items worth over $1billion annually.

After the fire that killed 111 workers, it said Tazreen Fashions was no longer authorised to produce merchandise for it and that one of its suppliers had subcontracted work to the Bangladeshi company in direct violation of the company's policies.

Walmart also said it terminated the relationship with the supplier in question.

However, Hong Kong sourcing giant Li & Fung, which has orders placed with Tazreen Fashions, said the day after the incident that it would give $1,200 to each of the families of those who died in the blaze.

Before submitting the memorandum, the trade unions formed a human chain in front of Govt Titumir College in the capital, demanding safe working environment for garment workers.

At the programme, Nazma Akter, president of Sommilito Garment Sramik Federation, warned of tougher action if the demands were not met.

Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) with the help of labour leaders prepared a new list of workers and staff of Tazreen Fashions to give them termination benefits along with arrears.

According to the list, 990 regular workers will get unpaid salaries with benefits. The number of workers who left the factory in October and were supposed to get their salaries on November 25 is 324, said Mir Abul Kalam Azad, general secretary of Shadhin Bangla Garments Sramik Karmachari Federation.

Rafiqul Islam, a joint secretary of BGMEA, said the association hopes to clear the benefits on December 5.

He said that as the fire had ravaged the factory it would not be possible to resume its production very soon. So the owners would provide the employees with all termination benefits as per the labour laws.

According to the laws, the workers, who have worked at the factory for a year or more, will get one month basic salary, one gratuity per year, encashment of earned leave and their due salaries.

Those who have worked for less than a year would get one month salary along with the last month's salary. The workers, who have worked for less than three months, will get Tk 1,000 along with their due salary, said Rafiqul.

Meanwhile, the garment owners kept their industrial units shut in Ashulia yesterday as angry workers continued their demonstrations demanding justice to the fire victims.

The whole thing began when workers of Windy Garments in Jamgara came out of the factory, shouting out fire. They hurled brick chips at other garment factories, demanding production suspension, said Moktar Hossain, deputy director of industrial police.

Workers of some other garments also joined the demonstration and blocked Ashulia-Baipail road for half an hour. Police fired around 200 rounds of tear shells to disperse the protesters, Moktar said.

Picard Bangladesh Ltd, a Bangladesh-German joint venture manufacturing leather products, whose three factories came under attack from outsiders on Saturday, resumed its operation after a day of work suspension, its managing director Saiful Islam said.

At least 50 guards and workers of the export-oriented company were injured when several hundred garment workers attacked its factories in Ashulia.

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Legal professionals here and overseas should get together and study the case very carefully, diligently and make a serious effort to help the victims and families of those who were made to die in a charcoal condition. It is absolute an inhumane and we must make all the effort to make them pay heavily as they cannot possibly wash their hand. Take the case to a US court and I am telling you that we have a serious case. Wal-Mart, Tanzeem Fashion Ltd and BGMEA & BKMEA must pay these families heavily in huge amount; possibly in billions.

: Sheikh Monirul Islam, Opee

Walmart is not obligated to pay any compensation for victims of the tragedy resulting from our own our own lapses. If out of sympathy anybody pays we should be thankful. It would be frivolous to demand compensation. Now that this tragedy has made international headlines, the new buyers will look at us twice .Kathy Lee a TV personality and also designer for Walmart got herself into a big controversy for her products were made in BD that was rumoured to use child labour. My point is Walmart go into public scrutiny.

: niloufar sarker


  • Selma
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 01:56 AM GMT+06:00 (166 weeks ago)

    Why should Walmart pay compensation when the fault lie wholly at the foot of the factory owner and the current government including trade unions since they allowed this company to set up and trade union allowed its workers to work there knowing full well that the factory was hazardous to its members?

  • rch
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 01:58 AM GMT+06:00 (166 weeks ago)

    Did Walmart tell Tazreen not to have fire safety explicitly or implicitly? Did Walmart force BD Fire Service to give license? But there are specific requirement to bring a Class Action Lawsuit --try it then BD government agencies would be a laughing stock for giving permissions where as Walmart will show that Tazreen owner was violating the contract. There was no criminal neglect by Walmart -- it was all BD owner and agencies. So, if we go after Walmart and other buyers then why do we need licenses and permits in BD?

  • Barkat
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 02:15 AM GMT+06:00 (166 weeks ago)

    The factory does not belong to Walmart nor is the Walmart the issuing authority of safety standard. If Walmart is held responsible for the crime and negligence of factory owner and Bangladesh government than in future importer will be reluctant to place order to Bangladesh. This diversion policy by the actual culprit to put liability on Walmart.

  • Manzoor Ashraf
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 02:36 AM GMT+06:00 (166 weeks ago)

    Why should Walmart be responsible for this disaster when fault lies fully with the factory owner, current Government and trade Unions?

  • Translucent
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 02:58 AM GMT+06:00 (166 weeks ago)

    The govt must also shoulder blame for not setting up regulatory authorities. The industry is in danger unless it is brought up to date.

  • niloufar sarker
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 03:55 AM GMT+06:00 (166 weeks ago)

    Thinking of suing Walmart for compensation is frivolous. If anybody has to be sued for compensation, it should be the factory concerned and the authorities that issued permits as to the fitness of the building to house thousands of workers. Obviously Tazreen Fashions bribed to get these permits. They should be criminally prosecuted for putting the workers in the harms way and also pay compensation for death, injury and lost wages.

  • Anonymous
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 05:54 AM GMT+06:00 (166 weeks ago)

    OH&S should be looked into and implemented effectively to refrain from such tragic accidents happening.

  • Dev Saha
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012 09:17 AM GMT+06:00 (166 weeks ago)

    I am sorry, I do not understand the logic of demanding compensation from Walmart. They do not own the factory, nor do they have Walmart managers, who run the production. The responsibility squarely lies with the Bangladeshi factory owner and their insurance company. Walmart should help the victims but it should not come as demand. That would not be right.





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