Bangladesh workers protest; families of dead plead

November 30, 2012 - 10:34 AM
Bangladesh Factory Fire

Bangladeshi garment workers shout slogans as they participate in a protest to mourn the death of the victims of a fire in a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. Hundreds of garment workers protested Friday outside the Bangladeshi factory where 112 people were killed by the fire, demanding compensation for their lost salaries. The placard behind reads: "Stop looting from the garment sector." (AP Photo/Pavel Rahman)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Hundreds of garment workers protested Friday outside a Bangladeshi factory where 112 people were killed by a fire, demanding compensation for their lost salaries, while relatives of those who did not survive gathered nearby, hoping against hope to find their remains.

Sonia Afrin traveled hundreds of kilometers to wail in grief outside the factory gates, begging for word of her brother, Kabir Parvez. Dozens of bodies, too badly burned to be identified, were buried soon after the Nov. 24 fire.

"Won't I be able to see my brother's face again? Why don't you say anything?" she cried. "Why, oh Allah? Why are you punishing us this way?" Some onlookers tried to console her.

Nearby, about 300 workers chanted "Want Justice" and "Want Compensation" in front of the closed Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory in a Dhaka suburb. They have been out of work since the fire in this impoverished South Asian country, which relies hugely on its $20-billion-a-year garment industry.

"We want the owner to reopen the factory as soon as possible or pay us a few months of salary because we have nowhere else to go right at this moment," said Hasan, a worker who escaped the fire and uses only one name.

Many of the workers earned about 4500 takas ($56) each month at the plant, plus overtime. It is money Dipa Akter, who injured her leg escaping the fire, cannot afford to lose.

"I need to recover soon. I need money immediately. We want at least four months of salary to just get by now and by this time, we will look for jobs in other factories," said the 19-year-old, who has worked at the factory for three years. "Otherwise, I have to go back to my village, where I have nothing to do."

The factory, guarded by police Friday, has been closed since the fire.

It was making clothes for Wal-Mart, Sears, Disney and other major global retailers, though the companies said their suppliers ordered clothing from the factory without their knowledge.

Fire officials say the factory had no emergency exits, and police have arrested three factory officials suspected of locking in the workers during the blaze.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association said it would pay 100,000 takas ($1,300) in initial compensation to the families of the dead and would then give them their deceased relative's monthly salary for at least 10 years.

Most of the workers come from the north, Bangladesh's poorest region, so many relatives of the dead or missing have had to travel far to try to learn their fate.

Shirin, who uses one name, and her husband traveled overnight from a northern district in hopes of getting information about Amena, their only daughter and a mother of three. She sent them money every month.

"My daughter told she will buy me a new sari. ... She asked me to send her some pies," Shirin said. "But where is she now. Where is she?"