Among the bodies recovered from the horrific Hashem Foods factory fire are an unknown number of children who were exploited as child labour.
Children were among the severely injured, as well as those who escaped by jumping from the second floor.
See “find my mother” – the story of a child labourer in the Hashem Foods factory fire in Bangladesh
Due to the illegal employment practices that include child labour, there is no record of the number of workers in the factory at the time. It is believed that at least 1,000 of the estimated 7,000 workers employed at the factory were on duty on B shift at the time of the fire. An estimated 80% of these workers were women and girls.
The number of dead is expected to rise as firefighters are still clearing the fifth and sixth floors.
The Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee formed today by several food, beverage and agricultural trade unions in Bangladesh issued a statement calling for an investigation into workers’ rights violations at the Hashem Foods factory and action against the parent company, Sajeeb Group.
In response to the tragic death of workers in the Hashem Foods factory fire, several food, beverage and agricultural trade unions formed the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee and called on the government to “investigate the violation of workers’ rights, including health and safety rights at the Hashem Foods factory as well all factories operated under Sajeeb Group and to take legal action against the culprits.”
The Committee also demanded that the injured workers receive all necessary medical treatment and that compensation be provided to the injured and deceased workers’ families.
[Translation of the July 10, 2021, press release]
The Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee condemned the tragic death of workers due to hazardous and unsafe working conditions in Sajeeb Group factory.
Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee (SGWJC) has expressed deep concern and condemnation over the death of 52 workers, missing of more than 50 workers and injury of hundred more workers in the fire at the factory of Hashem Foods Ltd. under Sajeeb Group in Rupganj, Narayanganj. The Sajeeb Group Workers’ Justice Committee, formed by representatives of trade unions in the agricultural and food processing industries in Bangladesh, says that the horrific fires occurred due to non-compliance with proper laws, health and safety regulations and the fires become terrible due to storing highly flammable materials and plastics in the Sajeeb Group factory. Survivors reported that more than 50 workers were killed since the roof gates of the factory were locked, the 3rd floor was locked keeping workers inside and there was no point to escape. SGWJC demanded that it is clear the Sajeeb Group authority have violated workers’ basic right to health and safety by maintaining a dangerous and unsafe working environment in the factory. The SGWJC said in their statement that Sajeeb Group, which failed to provide a safe working environment for the workers that led to the tragic deaths of workers, should be held responsible for killing and injuring the workers. In the interest of ensuring justice for the workers of Sajeeb Group, Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee made the following demands:
- To investigate the violation of workers’ rights, including health and safety rights at the Hashem Foods factory as well all factories operated under Sajeeb Group and to take legal action against the culprits.
- To provide proper medical treatment to the injured workers in the fire and to provide compensation to the injured and deceased workers’ families in accordance with ILO Convention 121.
Names of Unions and Federations represented in the Sajeeb Group Workers Justice Committee:
- Unilever Employees Union (Reg. No. B-1122)
- Transcom Beverages Ltd. Sramik-Kormochri Union (Reg. No. D-2107)
- Coca-Cola Employees Union (Reg. No. Mymon-47)
- Nestle Employees Union (Reg. No. Dhaka-5270)
- Parfetti Van Mele Bangladesh Pvt. Ltd. Employees Union (Reg. No. Dhaka-5360)
- Jatio Kisani Sramik Samiti (Reg. No. S-13521)
- Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation (Reg. No. B-1759)
- Bangladesh Sramajibi Kendra (Reg. No. Ba. Ja. Fe.-36)
[photo credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]
The tragic fire at the Hashem Foods Ltd factory in Rupganj in Narayanganj district, on the outskirts of Dhaka, started on the afternoon of Thursday July 8 and was still burning 24 hours later. So far 52 workers are confirmed dead, dozens are still missing, and hundreds are seriously injured.
Many of the workers who died were trapped on the third floor, above and next to the storage of highly flammable chemicals and plastics on the second and third floors.
While initial reports claimed workers were taking shelter when they died, new information from workers who jumped from the second and third floors indicates the exits were blocked and there was no escape. Workers who escaped the fire last night also reported that there was another fire at the factory just one week ago.
Relatives of workers protesting outside the factory on Thursday night demanded to know why the factory gate remained locked after the fire started, leading to more deaths and injuries.
[photo credit: Mehedi Hasan/ Dhaka Tribune]
The locked gate was the only way to exit the factory.
Some 7,000 workers have been working in unsafe conditions at Hashem Foods Ltd, which is one of several food, beverage, and agro-processing companies owned by Sajeeb Group.
The factory not only produces the local brands of Hashem Foods. It also manufactures several regional and international brands including Shezan juices for Pakistan-based Shezan International and beverages and snack foods for US-based Mondelez.
IUF-affiliated unions in Bangladesh condemned the hazardous and unsafe conditions that led to the tragic deaths of workers. They are demanding an investigation into the violation of workers’ rights, including health and safety rights, at the Hashem Foods Ltd factory as well as all factories operated Sajeeb Group.
In Gujarat, India, young members of the Gujarat Agricultural Labour Union (GALU) are vaccinated in Panchmahal district, a tribal district with high level of vaccine hesitancy.
GALU’s youth organization Tarvariya Tarun Sangathan (TSS), which also runs its school of democracy and governance, is leading the COVID-19 vaccine awareness campaign among young farm workers. This is supported by the special contribution of the United Workers Union (UWU) in Australia through the IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Solidarity Fund.
After working hard throughout the pandemic as essential food industry workers, members of the IUF-affiliated United Workers Union (UWU) are on strike for decent wages and fair treatment.
For workers at the General Mills factory in Rooty Hill in New South Wales, Australia, there is no recognition or reward for their hard work or long hours as essential food industry workers making brands like Old El Paso Mexican Food and Latina Fresh Pasta. This includes casual workers working for more than five years in insecure jobs. Despite being essential in the pandemic, General Mills is refusing to make them permanent.
Yet in its announcement to investors in March this year, it was very clear that all this hard work created value for shareholders:
“In Europe and Australia, third quarter organic net sales grew 7%, primarily driven by growth in Old El Paso Mexican Food and Haagen-Dazs retail ice cream.”
Despite contributing to this sales growth and profit through their hard work, workers in Australia are being denied a fair wage.
IUF affiliates are mobilizing to support the strike at General Mills in Rooty Hill.
Click here to sign the petition!
After months of ignoring union calls to improve COVID-19 safety measures, Cambodia’s largest hotel leisure resort Naga World Hotel Casino announced the mass redundancy of over 1,300 workers for “business reasons”. The mass retrenchment includes over 600 union members and union leaders – including the union president, vice president and general secretary.
Only 18 months ago the union president Sithar Chhim was reinstated after strike action by union members against her unfair dismissal in September 2019. Now Sithar Chhim has been terminated again, along with union vice president Sokha Chun and union general secretary Sokhorn Chhim.
The integrated hotel casino resort is owned by the Hong Kong-listed NagaCorp which declares itself to be “one of the world’s most profitable gaming companies, and the largest gaming entertainment company in the Mekong Region.” On March 8, 2021 – exactly a month before the announcement of mass layoffs on April 8 – NagaCorp announced a USD 102 million profit and that 100% of the profits for the second half of 2020 will be paid out to “loyal” shareholders:
“As a reward to the Shareholders who believe in the long-term growth of the Group despite today’s difficult times and in order to alleviate any sufferings, if any, of these loyal Shareholders who have stayed on faithfully with us during the COVID-19 crisis, the Board has recommended an unprecedented 100% dividend payout of net profits generated for the second half of 2020 as final dividend for the year ended 31 December 2020.”
While millions were paid to shareholders for their loyalty, workers who worked throughout the pandemic received nothing for their loyalty. Instead the company chose to slash the jobs of over 1,300 workers. Unlike the company’s concern to “alleviate any sufferings” of shareholders, it created suffering for these workers and their families.
Under the guise of “consultation” management met with the union to announce its Rationalization Plan, but refused to explain why mass redundancy was the only option. Management also refused to explain how workers were chosen for redundancy.
Although management claims that the job roles of 1,300 workers will no longer exist, over 700 casual workers in insecure jobs will be re-deployed to fill these roles. Similarly, management’s assertion that job cuts are due automation hide the fact that the company deliberately accelerated its plans to introduce new technologies, displacing workers in a pandemic.
After years of refusing to recognize the right of the union to represent its members, management declared that any negotiation over redundancies would be individual not through the union, leaving each worker alone without any representation to be bullied by a multibillion dollar company. Without representation, information or options, and facing economic hardship after months of reduced wages, hundreds of workers were compelled to accept “voluntary” redundancy.
More than 600 union members refused redundancy and are demanding the right to negotiate the terms and conditions of restructuring through their union. Having already terminated the union leadership, management refuses to negotiate.
Over 2,000 union members have signed a mass petition to be submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training as a formal complaint, demanding reinstatement and an end rights violations and forced redundancies.