Along with Idilia Foods’ Nocilla chocolate hazelnut spread and Shezan International’s Shezan juices, the Kolson pasta products of Lotte Kolson were manufactured at the Hashem Foods factory where a tragic fire killed dozens of workers on 8 July and dozens more suffered serious injuries.
Despite the systematic exploitation of child labour at Hashem Foods factory for a number of years and multiple violations of labour laws and fire safety regulations, Lotte Kolson failed to conduct any form of auditing or due diligence that would reveal these abuses. In fact both Kolson in Pakistan and Lotte in Korea have a history of aggressive trade union rights violations and preventing workers from forming unions. The abusive conditions at Hashem Foods certainly fit their business model.
Lotte Kolson is a Pakistan-based food company wholly owned by Lotte Corporation headquartered in Korea. Lotte acquired Kolson in 2010 and renamed it Lotte Kolson.
From 16 to 18 July 2021, management of Sajeeb Group summoned 24 relatives of workers who died in the fire to give them compensation of BDT 200,000 [EUR 1,962 ; USD 2,317] for each worker who died. This included the under-aged workers, some as young as 11 years old.
The husband and son of Nazma who died in the factory fire on 8 July. Nazmul, 13, also worked in the factory. He had already finished his shift and left the factory when the fire broke out.
To receive a cheque for BDT 200,000 the relatives were instructed to sign a “receipt”. The receipt was in fact a legal disclaimer for any further liability, denying any future compensation claims by the family. The majority of those signing could not read the document and no one was permitted to keep a copy.
A trade union volunteer from the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee delivers rice to the home of a victim’s family.
By taking advantage of the emotional distress and the extreme economic hardship of the families of the victims, Sajeeb Group forced them to give up the right to any further financial claims or compensation. This is before any official investigation has been concluded, and before any independent public inquiry has been held.
The company now claims that the document signed by desperate family members is legally binding. This is despite the fact that Sajeeb Group is under investigation for several violations of the law under three separate investigations. The owner and senior management face criminal charges including homicide. Yet Sajeeb Group reasserts the “receipt” is a valid legal document and that if the families try to claim any more compensation they will be prosecuted.
The Sajeeb Group Workers’ Justice Committee denounced this action by the company as immoral and illegal. Compensation must be determined as part of a comprehensive investigation into what happened and why. This requires an independent public inquiry. The independent public inquiry will refer to a number of measures, including International Labour Convention No. 121 on Employment Injury Benefits, as a basis for determining compensation. It cannot simply be the decision of Sajeeb Group that the life of a worker is worth USD 2,317.
Workers identified the hazelnut and chocolate spread manufactured under the brand name Nocilla for Spanish company Idilia Foods as one of the main food products made on the third floor of the Hashem Foods factory. Early reports suggest that a pipeline carrying edible oil from one floor to another exploded.
According to a news report on 9 July, fire fighters said that: “Edible oil used as raw material to make a chocolate and hazelnut spread fuelled the fire at Hashem Foods Ltd factory that kept burning for around 24 hours.” The report identified the edible oil as a Nocilla ingredient.
Hashem Foods management ignored warning notices on fire safety and child labour a month before the tragic fire that killed an unknown number of workers, including children as young as 11 years old.
Months before the tragic fire at Hashem Foods factory, management ignored notices issued by the fire services department concerning the lack of fire safety and in particular the lack of fire-fighting equipment. At that time the inspectors saw there was child labour in the factory.
When inspectors from the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) visited the factory on June 8, 2021, to inspect health and safety conditions, they also observed child labour blatantly exploited in the factory. DIFE then issued a notice to the factory management regarding the employment of child labour in violation of the law. Hashem Foods management and its parent company Sajeeb Group simply ignored these notices and no action was taken by any of the government authorities.
A week later the fire broke out in the factory fueled by highly flammable chemicals and plastic packaging stored on the second floor, while doors and exits on the third floor were blocked. An unknown number of workers – including children – died or were seriously injured. Three of the children who jumped from the third floor are hospitalized in critical condition.
Although the official death toll is 52, it should be noted that this was announced on the morning of Friday July 9 before the fire was extinguished and a full day before fire fighters could access the fourth and fifth floors.
Just one week before the tragic fire at Hashem Foods factory workers held a protest action over unpaid wages and unpaid overtime. The Daily Inqilab interviewed protesting workers on July 1, 2021, who said, “the higher authorities of the factory threatened to beat and dismiss the workers if they talked about overtime, arrears of salary and salary increase.”
Companies with business relationships with Hashem Foods, including Shezan International and Kolson Lotte in Pakistan, Idilia Foods from Spain and US-based Mondelez International, clearly failed in their human rights due diligence. Despite requests by IUF-affiliated trade unions to discuss this tragedy and their responsibility, they have refused to respond.
Even before firefighters could extinguish the fire at Hashem Foods factory, the Sajeeb Group chairman, Abdul Hashem, quickly denied any responsibility for the fire that killed more than 52 workers. And as the search for the bodies of missing women and girls working in the factory had only just started, Sajeeb Group shut down its website and left this notice.
We pray for the Salvation of the souls of those lost their lives in the fire that broke out in the Sezan Juice Factory of Hashem Foods Limited. In this exhaustion, we stand and will stand by the families of the injured and the dead. Hashem Foods Limited is deeply shocked and saddened by the accident. The prayers and cooperation of all are desirable to overcome this situation. Hashem Foods Ltd.
What this replaced was the image several local and international brands manufactured under license by Hashem Foods and Sajeeb Group.
This included Tang, Cadbury Bourn Vita and Oreo brands of Mondelez International featured in the Sajeeb Group website along with Shezan of Pakistan-based Shezan International and Kolson also Pakistan-based. Kolson is a subsidiary of Lotte Corporation in South Korea. Also featured is the Nocilla brand of the Spanish company Idilia Foods.
The IUF-affiliated Pakistan Food Workers’ Federation (PFWF) issued a statement expressing solidarity with the workers and families of victims of the tragic fire at the Hashem Foods factory in Rupganj in Narayanganj district in Bangladesh.
PFWF condemned the hazardous working conditions – including the storage of highly flammable materials, locked gates and blocked doorways – that led to the death of more than 52 workers and hundreds of injuries.
The factory also produced juices under license for Shezan International, a leading beverage company based in Pakistan. PFWF called on Shezan International to take responsibility for the dangerous working conditions and rights violations at a factory producing its branded products.
[translation of the statement issued by PFWF on July 10, 2021]
Pakistan Food Workers Federation condemns the tragic fire incident, and raise great concern over the incident, which happened due to the criminal negligence by the factory management, at food factory in Narayanganj district, Bangladesh. This incident took 52 lives of workers, and many got injured.
Federation also raised concerns over precarious working conditions, poor health & Safety standards and presence of packaging material and chemical stored at second floor of the factory there was no proper emergency exit consequently workers at 3rd and 4th floors were trapped when fire broke. We also have serious concern that Hashem Foods Ltd, owned by Sajeeb Group at their other factories have around 7000 workers working under unsafe working conditions, and their lives are also at risk.
The Federation also raise concern that as per information that factory gate was locked, due to which workers could not escape the site to save their lives this lead to higher numbers of deaths . The families of victims also identified the same.
It is also came to the Federation’s knowledge that the said factory was manufacturing products of the Pakistan company Shezan International. We believe Shezan International is also responsible for the working condition and health & safety of the factory. We demand that Shezan International should hold inquiry of the matter as they are responsible for Occupational health and safety standards of factories where their products are manufactured in any country.
The Federation extends its greater solidarity with injured workers and families of workers who lost their lives in tragic incident an. We demand that government and companies (whose product are been manufactured in this factory) should compensate the deceased workers families, and workers who are injured. Also, provide free medical assistance. And inquiry should be launched and the perpetrators should be brought to justice.