Workers Murdered

Omar Rashid Chowdhury

Afood production factory in Narayanganj, Bangladesh caught fire recently, leaving at least 52 workers dead and many missing. While this news bulletin may be read as another fire incident, this is in fact an act of murder. The murderers are the moneyed owners, who were not only negligent of fire security measures to be installed in the factory but went as far as to deny any responsibility and blamed it on the workers’ “carelessness”. Among the missing are child labourers, aged workers and women.

The factory of Hashem Foods owned by Sajeeb Group, a conglomerate in Bangladesh, did not have appropriate fire security measures installed. The 35,000 sq feet, six-storied building had only two exit staircases, while according to safety protocols it was supposed to have at least four to five exit staircases. The factory stored on the ground floor flammable materials like edible oil.

With one of the exits engulfed in smoke and fire, workers were trapped inside. It was reported that the only exit gate of third floor was locked to keep workers from ‘escaping’ work, which also made sure they would not be able to escape their grim fiery fate. Some workers jumped off the building hurting to death.

Bodies recovered were charred and disfigured beyond recognition. It is assumed that no workers from the third floor could get out. The dead were piling up in morgues while the air was thick with mourning and tears.

The owner of the factory denied responsibility for the fire. "Building an industry is one of the greatest mistakes of my life. If there is an industry, there will be workers. If there are workers, then there will be work, and if there is work, there can be fire," he said while replying one of the leading English dailies in Dhaka. This was not the first-time workers in Bangladesh were literally put to fire. The incidents have a similar pattern.

The dead from this fire incident will soon turn into mere numbers. While the dead may tell no tales, yet if they could, those would be tales of violent, painful, fiery deaths. They would tell how they had to keep working during a nationwide COVID shutdown for meagre payments; they would tell how under age children had to work in the factory to support their families; they would tell how they were treated as mere caged slaves, locked down in their floors. They would tell how their lives simply did not matter to their employers.

Yet, they will not be tales unknown. They will remain as tales of fire, of death and of draconian exploitation by an inhuman system run by the moneyed classes. They will remain as tales of brutal murders.

[Omar Rashid Chowdhury is a civil engineer graduated from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). He has experience in structural risk analysis for industrial buildings in RMG sector. Mail him to]

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Vol. 54, No. 7, Aug 15 - 21, 2021