Hashem Foods Factory Fire: Hold govt bodies that permitted it to run accountable

Each government authority that gave permissions to keep a factory like Hashem Foods Limited running despite its faulty fire safety and non-compliant condition, should be made accountable and brought under the law, speakers said at a webinar yesterday.

The programme, titled “The Accident of Hashem Foods in terms of Factory’s Health, Safety and Environment”, was organised by Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), a leading environmental platform.

Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at CPD; Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bapa; Dr Mahbuba Nasreen, professor at Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies at Dhaka University; Iqbal Habib, joint secretary at Bapa; Prof Dr Md Abdul Alim, member of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority; and Hafizul Islam, member at Bangladesh Trade Union Centre, participated in the webinar.

Terming the incident a ‘murder’, speakers said after each such incident, numerous probe bodies have been formed, but the reports do not get published and the persons and authorities responsible have remained unpunished.

That is why such deadly accidents are occurring again and again, they said, demanding judicial investigation into the matter.

He added that there are Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), Fire Service and Civil Defense, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha and so on.

“They should be made liable too. If any one or two of them get punished, the scenerio will change… After 50 years of Independence, if you say that there manpower shortage of factory inspectors, then it’s fraudulence,” Iqbal said.

On July 8, a deadly fire razed Hashem Foods Limited in Rupganj of Narayanganj, killing at least 51 workers and staffers of the factory.

Prof Dr Md Abdul Alim, member of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, said a food factory should not situated in a six-storied building. It should be a one-storied building.

“Media reports say the six-storied building has only two stairs instead of four. The 34,000 square-foot floor should have more than four stairs. Each floor should have separate fire exits,” Dr Alim said.

Hafizul Islam said that the factory appointed children as workers for minimal wage, defying rules and regulations.

“In this coronavirus situation, many poor children are left out of school. The company took the chance and hired many of them for low wage,” he said.

Shasthya Andolan joint convenor Farida Akhter presented the keynote paper at the webinar.

She said officials from DIFE visited the Hashem Group factory on June 8, 2021, and issued a notice for unsafe use of child labour.  But Hashem Group did not take note of it.  The accident happened within a month.

She added that a 2019 report by BSTI found the food products of 26 companies to be substandard, including Kolson Semai of Hashem Group.

Prof Mustafizur Rahman said this is not a mere accident, but a murder when so many manmade factors are involved.

“After the Rana Plaza incident in 2013, most RMG factories became compliant after pressure from buyers and Accord/Alliance. The government should focus its attention similarly on the non-RMG industrial sectors to improve workers’ safety situation in the country,” he said.

He added that the country will soon exit from the LDC category. “But what happens to the rule of law? The workers must get justice,” he said.

The webinar was presided over by former IEDCR director AM Zakir Hossain and anchored by Bapa member-secretary Bidhan Chandra Pal.

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