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Monday, January 28, 2013
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ILLEGAL

Building, factory set up unlawfully but manufactured products of top European buyers on sub-contract

Tags of European brands lie among the debris of fire-ravaged Smart Export Garments Ltd. Top, an agreement paper showing the subcontract between Smart Export and Mahi Fashion.Photo: STAR

Smart Export Garments Ltd, where seven workers died in a blaze on Saturday, used to produce clothing items at an unlicensed factory for European brands under sub-contract.

A visit to the factory in the capital's Mohammadpur revealed that there was neither any fire-fighting equipment nor any exit signs on the walls at the factory.

The owners of Smart Export Garments could not be contacted as they went into hiding soon after the blaze. They set up the factory on the second floor of a two-storey building owned by Nasima Khanam.

Nasima admitted that she did not have any approval from Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) for constructing the building.

She, however, claimed that it was not necessary to take Rajuk's approval since the site is located outside Mohammadpur flood protection dam.

Nasima told The Daily Star over the phone that when the factory owners contacted her for renting a floor of the building, they told her that they were not big garment manufacturers.

They also told her that they would bring light machines to the factory for sewing clothes.

"The factory owners told us that they would sew clothes for major garment factories and they don't have any network abroad," she said.

Khandoker Shamsuzzoha, assistant director of fire service department, told The Daily Star that Smart Export Garments does not have any fire licence and the factory had never applied for it.

The department's Deputy Assistant Director Mamun Mahmud, also member of a probe committee on the fire incident, said, "If someone wants to set up a garment factory, he has to follow a legal process. None can launch an apparel factory without a fire licence."

Some official documents found at the burnt factory confirmed that it had produced garments for European brands under subcontract with local exporters.

The Daily Star found tags of some brands such as SOL's, Bershka, Lefties, Scott & Fox and Hawaiian Authentics strewn among burnt clothing items.

Of the brands, Bershka and Lefties belong to Spanish retail giant Inditex.

When asked, an Inditex official in Dhaka said they didn't know that their clothing items are made in such non-compliant factories.

Inditex's owner Amancio Ortega is the third richest person in the world having wealth worth $59.8 billion at the end of last year, according to media reports.

“The main factories that got purchase orders gave the orders to Smart Export Garments under subcontract without informing Lefties,” said the Inditex official asking not to be named.

“We are now sifting through the purchase order documents to find out who were given the work orders and how Smart Export Garments Ltd got the orders under sub-contract. We have no direct dealings with Smart Export Garments.

“The actual receivers of purchase orders gave the work orders to Smart Export Garment sneakily without informing the buyer,” the official added.

It was evident from the burnt clothes that the factory, which spread over a 10,000 square-feet floor, was producing long-sleeved off-white cotton jackets for Lefties, as tags of this brand were found attached to the jackets.

The factory was also producing clothes for some other European brands such as Bershka, Scott & Fox, Pasadena Rider, SOL's, G blog, Hawaiian Authentics and max.

A sub-contract deed signed between Smart Export Garments and Mahi Fashion on November 26, 2012 was also found in the factory.

The agreement shows that Smart Export Garments gave an offer to Mahi Fashion for sewing, finishing and packing 3,000 pieces of cargo shorts.

Mahi Fashion accepted the offer based on an 11-point condition stipulated in the deed. The date of the products' shipment was December 4 last year.

Other documents also confirmed that Smart Export Garments had signed similar agreements with some other companies, including Omas Packaging Ltd, Naz Jeans Processions and MAC-TEX.

Abdul Kader, who looks after the building and also runs a bakery on the ground floor, said the two-storey building has a foundation for five floors.

He said the building's construction began in 2011, and its owner entered into an agreement with Smart Export Garments towards the end of the same year.

The garment factory went into production on the 1st floor in January last year while the bakery on the ground floor was launched later.

He said the apparel factory had electricity connection but it did not have any gas connection or water supply from Wasa. It used pumps to extract groundwater.

Kader said what caused the fire still remained unknown but he believed that external sources like a dropped cigarette might have sparked the fire.

"Someone might have started the fire because it was originated from a corner where there was no electric device that could cause short-circuit," he said.

However, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir yesterday told reporters at his secretariat office that a primary investigation found that Saturday's factory fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit.

Kader said he had met an inspector of Rajuk before the construction of the two-storey building. The Rajuk official had told him that the building did not require an approval of Rajuk as the area was outside its jurisdiction.

Kader, however, could not name the inspector.

Asked if the building's owner had checked whether Smart Export Garments Ltd had all the legal papers required before he rented out the first floor, Kader said, "We considered them [factory owners] as mere tenants."

Smart Export Garments is not a member of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) or Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA).

The factory looked like a very informal trade venture where no safety measure had been taken, putting at risk the lives of some 350 employees.

It seemed to have employed labourers, ignoring the mandatory 18-year-age requirement. Many minor boys and girls had been appointed at the factory, said some workers and neighbours.

Moyna Akter, a 20-year-old girl, worked for only two months after the company began its operation in the building in January last year. Her younger sister Kohinur Akter continued her job as a helper until she died in Saturday's deadly fire.

The great loss has a serious impact on Moyna who said, "I will never work for a garment factory."

She also said one of the factory's owners was Sharif whose wife had worked as a supervisor there.

Smart Export Garments used to manufacture men's shorts and jackets with flammable foams. The fire was originated from the store room near the toilet on the factory floor, survivors said. All offices, store rooms, sample rooms and toilets were on the same floor.

During the fire, more than 300 workers were inside the factory, said some workers.

BGMEA President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said the trade body could not avoid its responsibility though the factory was not its member.

"We are closely monitoring the matter. We are trying to reach the owners of the factory."

Subcontract has become a reality of the garment industry now. Foreign buyers are squeezing the prices and so to get the production cost reduced, garment owners subcontract their orders, the BGMEA chief said. If the buyers increase even 20 cents per piece of garment items, the whole issue of compliance would turn overnight, he added.

Kalpana Akter, executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity, however, said, "Frequent fires [at garment factories] are taking place for weak monitoring of the government and BGMEA. BGMEA cannot avoid its responsibility though the factory is not its member."

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And the factory owner is a BGMEA/BKMEA member too: so where is the responsibility on these greatest organisations on earth which loves to throw their weight so often. It is too late before we make these organisations pay huge compensation by force so that they also feel the brunt of it. The factory owner and the building owner must be arrested immediately and legal action must proceed without any delay. Vested interest should be side lined, a fair investigation must take place and measures need to be taken according to findings. BGMEA or BKMEA should not be allowed to be part of this investigation and we all must understand what is right for the industry. If we want RMG sector to flourish, we must understand that this is the final bell ringing to get the household in order. More we delay it, try to hide it under the carpet, more serious damage will take place.

: Sheikh Monirul Islam, Opee

At first, a fresh investigation must be held and then people demand the right justice for the fire incident.

: selim reza sirajganj govt college

Comments

  • Ahmed Badruzzaman
    Monday, January 28, 2013 02:25 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    How long will this awful condition continue? Unchecked, it will kill the golden goose of Bangladesh economy.

  • Robin
    Monday, January 28, 2013 02:51 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    Everything is out of control in Bangladesh, everything. Bangladesh government does not care about the life of a Bangladeshi. It is simply sickening.

  • Md. Abdullah Al Forhad
    Monday, January 28, 2013 03:41 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    Govt should formulate new law that unauthorised factory owner should get exemplary punishment otherwise it would be very difficult for us avoiding these types of unwanted incidents.

  • neutral
    Monday, January 28, 2013 04:25 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    'Illegal' prevails in Bangladesh. Go through the important judgement of the superior courts, you would be able to identify a number of government actions, institution and plan which have been declared illegal by the court of law. But they are operating as usual without any action to lock-up these units or institution and take the owners in custody. Clean the political arena from corruption if you want clean and good governance. The politicians are boycotting parliament, let the media boycott the politicians from their print page. Print stories of individual success, social reform by self help measures, movement against the politicians who resort to corruption and make parliament dysfunctional, and use political power and force to get rid of alleged corruption cases. Empower the people to take action against the politicians who fail to keep their political promise and enjoy life style beyond their means.

  • Alamgir
    Monday, January 28, 2013 08:05 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    After all these repeated safety and fire related problems and lots of loss of human lives in these factories, it is high time that the main principal who usually place orders with factories with 100% compliance, to amend laws and make sure that these compliance factories do not pass the buck by sub contacting with a non-compliance factory with no provisions for safety of its workers. It seems that these large corporate companies in wealthy countries hanker only for windfall profits and care so less about where actually their merchandize are actually made!

  • Misbah Uddin Sumon
    Monday, January 28, 2013 08:08 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    Not only Smart Garment there are so many Garments in Dhaka city which have not any license, exit signs on the walls or safety equipment. Some of them are not member of BGMEA or BKMEA. But question is that how they are conducting business? Is there any law or legislation of producing export quality products? Ministry of Commerce as well as well as BGMEA and BKMEA have to conscious about illegal factories and have to take immediate step to maintain safety and security for other garments who are maintaining safety rules.

  • Roni Rahman
    Monday, January 28, 2013 08:15 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    Who is the conspirator this time, Madam PM? Regardless of the causes of the fire, scores should not die if compliances are met. When will the govt run out of excuses and take the responsibility of ensuring fire safety, especially for this crucial sector that has become the backbone of the country's economy?

  • shariful alam
    Monday, January 28, 2013 09:29 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    Following are some points which are to be looked into.

    1. Subcontract has become a vivid reality at the present context of world economic crisis. The media should not discourage this practice, rather this trend ought to he encouraged. Media should highlight whether the safety measures were ensured or not in these subcontracting factories or not.

    2. It is thought to think now alter natively how the garment factories are grown up in the heart of the Dhaka city. From now, garment factories should be set up in a separate zone. It can not be accepted now how big and small factories are growing in residential areas of Dhaka city without any permission.

    3. How some media have been trying to highlight the main foreign buyers is not acceptable. How they displays the big giant's logo on the debris of the gutted factories require alternate thoughts. The main buyers have here nothing to do to ensure the fire safety measure in these garments factories.

    Media should try to focus on the main concern to ensure fire safety measures. The buyers should not be tried to object by our few media just after the fire incidences.

  • Concerned
    Monday, January 28, 2013 10:07 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    It is indeed a grave issue that such illegality has become rampant and is leading to loss of life. However, prior publishing such news caution must also be taken as to not to name the international buyers as they have no nexus to the alleged illegality. Naming the buyers will add no benefit rather such reckless publication will only drive out the buyers from Bangladesh leading to loss of remittance-a big loss for the already crippled economy.

  • masum
    Monday, January 28, 2013 10:41 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    Bangladesh is largely dependent on the income from garments sector. Such headlines will surely make our buyers de-motivated. With possessing great sympathy to the suffering people, we can take initiatives, discuss the possible solutions and also we can accuse the owners of such factories. Such news that emphasises the dark sides more than tasks to do to prevent it should be discouraged. I think daily star will take the issue seriously and keep contributing for the country.

  • Md Shahjahan
    Monday, January 28, 2013 10:57 AM GMT+06:00 (135 weeks ago)

    Sub-contract is not harmful. it should encourage to diversify garment works to the whole country by utilizing local tailors. But safety precautionary must there.


 

 


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