DIFE disagrees with investigation report
An investigation committee of the Narayanganj district administration has found evidence of child labour at the factory of Hashem Foods and Beverage Company Ltd in Rupganj, Narayanganj, which caught fire in July.
However, the authorities of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) have disagreed with the report.
Narayanganj Deputy Commissioner Mostain Billah told Dhaka Tribune on Monday afternoon that the Narayanganj district administration's investigation committee had submitted a 44-page investigation report on the fire on Thursday.
“The investigation report found evidence of child labour at the factory. We spoke to the families of 36 workers who were injured and the 51 workers who died in the fire, and I have personally spoken to workers of the factory. They all confirmed that children were working there,” he said.
“We also found the body of a 13-year-old worker named Hasnain,” the deputy commissioner added.
He further said the findings proved that the DIFE had been deficient in discharging its responsibilities.
“Due to a lack of monitoring, the factory authorities had been committing criminal acts such as the use of child labour. I will send the report with 20 recommendations on labour safety and child labour to the other ministries, including the Ministry of Labour. They will make a decision and take action in this regard,” Billah said.
DIFE denies evidence of child labour
Soumen Barua, deputy inspector general of the DIFE Narayanganj unit, meanwhile disagreed with the findings reached in the Narayanganj district administration investigation report.
"We did not find any child labour at the factory," he told Dhaka Tribune.
“The families of the workers injured in the blaze and the victims that have been spoken to were all over 14 years old. If the investigation report mentions child labour, they will be able to say it better. We did not find any such evidence,” the DIFE official added.
Regarding the monitoring of the factory, he said: "We have been inspecting factories for over two years, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure the safety of workers. We also visited the Hashem Foods Ltd factory but did not find any trace of child labour.”
He also said the DIFE had found no evidence of exits to the factory being locked.
According to the DIFE official, action would be taken if evidence of child labour were found. Two cases had already been lodged against the factory owners, and more were underway.
“We have sent notices regarding payment of Tk2.5 lakh to the injured workers and Tk2 lakh to the families of workers who have died, as per labour law. If factory owners do not comply, we will sue them again,” Soumen Barua said.
Fire from electrical short circuit
Narayanganj Additional Deputy Commissioner Shamim Bepari, head of the Narayanganj district administration investigation committee, said the fire at the factory was caused by an electrical short circuit inside the main compressor room on the ground floor. The fire spread quickly due to the presence of a lot of foil paper and chemicals.
“We spoke to a worker at the scene who told us that he had rescued many people with a forklift, because there were no fire extinguishers. But the fire had spread throughout the entire building by the time he reached the third floor,” he said.
He added that the factory building had two sets of stairs, but the design did not comply with the building code. The design had not been approved by the authorities concerned, and the factory authorities had been operating without accreditation.
On July 8, at least 52 workers were killed in a fire at the factory of Hashem Foods Ltd in Rupganj, Narayanganj. As many as 49 bodies were burned so badly that they required DNA tests for identification before they could be handed over to their families.
Till Saturday, the bodies of 45 people had been handed over to their relatives.
Nazim Uddin, an inspector of Bhulta police outpost of Rupganj police station, filed a murder case against factory owner Abul Hashem, his four sons and eight others on July 10.