Tazreen survivors still seek answers

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It has been three years since they faced near-fatal injuries, became disabled or lost their family’s bread winners. However, survivors of the Tazreen Fashions fire have received inadequate compensation since then, as international retailers and brands are unwilling to donate, leaving them to lead a life of hardship.

M Syed Ali, a 27-year-old who worked on the second floor of the eight-storey Tazreen Fashions, said, “I will not be able to buy any more medicine from next month if I do not receive financial support. I have spent all that I have.”

He suffered serious injuries to his spine and left leg after he jumped off the second floor, as the fire quickly spread through the building. With monthly medicine bills amounting to Tk 5,400, Ali received only

Tk 1 lakh from Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Ali lives with his wife Aklima in Ashulia; she works as an operator at a garment factory and earns Tk 8,000 a month. “Her income is not enough to support our family. I need further treatment so that I fully recover and can work again.” Ali, who hails from Rangpur, came to the National Press Club yesterday with many other survivors and the family members of the deceased to demand compensation.

Another survivor Rowshan Ara, 36, said she jumped from the third floor and received injuries on both legs.

“I cannot sit for 20 minutes at a stretch. I cannot walk properly either.”

Prior to the fire, her son Kaiser, 15, used to go to school. But his education came to a halt as he had to take up a job at a factory to support the family. However, he could not continue as he was under-age. He is now learning electrical work, she said.

“My son had to leave school. I now want my nine-year daughter to continue her education, but I cannot bear the expenses,” said Rowshan Ara, who receives Tk 4,000 a month and free medicine, thanks to support from Dutch retailer C&A.

The arrangement is brokered by Caritas Bangladesh, a charity.

The survivors who came to join the human-chain yesterday were among the 114 workers injured after jumping out of the windows on the third and fourth floors, as the exits were locked when the fire broke out.

Meaningful compensation has so far been provided by BGMEA, the government, C&A, and Li & Fung of Hong Kong.

But for the injured workers who received Tk 1 lakh each, the money was insufficient and ran out in the first few months.

A number of survivors said they need long-term financial security, as they have been unable to work for a living.

At the human chain, leaders of a number of labour rights groups, including the local chapter of IndustriALL Global Union, urged garment retailers and brands that sourced apparel items from Tazreen Fashions to clear the funds for the victims.

They demanded full and fair compensation for all the injured and the families of the dead.

“By compensating the victims of Rana Plaza, we have already set a standard,” said Roy Ramesh Chandra, a leading rights activist, terming the Tk 1 lakh compensation under the labour law inadequate.

One year ago, IndustriALL, together with the Clean Clothes Campaign, a rights group, C&A and the C&A Foundation signed an agreement, brokered by the International Labour Organisation. They are to set up the Tazreen Claims Administration Trust to compensate the victims from a dedicated fund.

The trust will make payments to cover for the loss in income and medical treatments.

Brands and retailers with revenue more than $1 million had been asked to pay a minimum of $100,000 to the fund. Only C&A, Li & Fung and German retailer KiK have contributed to the fund so far.

Tazreen’s biggest customer — Wal-Mart — still has not provided any funds.

In the months leading up to the fire, Tazreen workers also produced clothing for brands such as El Corte Ingles, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Piazza Italia, Disney, Sears, Dickies, Delta Apparel and Sean John.

Yesterday, the Clean Clothes Campaign and International Labour Rights Forum urged international brands to contribute to the fund.

Sam Maher, who represents the Clean Clothes Campaign in the Tazreen Claim Administration Trust, said, “These workers have been waiting for three years to get the financial payments which they need for daily survival, to pay for rent, education and health care. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”

“There is no justification for refusing to pay — Tazreen workers deserve to be treated the same as those at Rana Plaza. We urge all those brands that were buying from Tazreen to contribute now, without further delay.”

Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labour Rights Forum, said, “It is unconscionable that after three years, the Tazreen victims and families still have not received meaningful compensation and Wal-Mart hasn’t paid or pledged anything at all.”

Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign has calculated that the amount of long-term compensation for the injured and deceased should be at least $5.7 million.

Source: The Daily Star

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