MANY families of the 112 Bangladeshis burned to death in a clothing factory blaze in late November have yet to receive any compensation.
Two months after the 24 November fire in the plant which made clothes for western companies including Wal-Mart and Disney, some relatives still await DNA confirmation that their loved one was among the dead and most have been denied even the deceased’s last pay packet.
Most of the dead were burned beyond recognition, with many families left without a body to bury.
An official for Bangladesh’s garment industry this week said DNA tests must first be conducted to confirm the losses of more than 50 families. Many of the families desperately need money after losing their main breadwinners in the fire at the Tazreen factory.
At the time of the tragedy, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a foreign supplier and the government promised to give the families of the dead 600,000 takas (£4,800) each, finance the education of the dead workers’ children and pay the November salaries of both dead and surviving factory workers.
“I have got nothing. Nobody is saying anything,” said Ansar, 55, who lost his wife and daughter in the fire. He is too ill to work. His 16-year-old son, who also worked at Tazreen, managed to escape but was traumatised by leaving his mother and sister behind “amid the darkness and ash,” Ansar said at his home near the gutted factory.
The teenager got a job at another factory but was unable to work because of his trauma.
“My son cannot sleep,” Ansar said, sobbing. “He wakes up at midnight and then cries for a long time every night.”
Ansar has been unable to pay his rent for two months and fears that if he gets evicted he may never be compensated.
The fire drew international attention to the conditions that textile workers toil under in Bangladesh, where the £125 billion-a-year industry has massive political influence.
The factory lacked emergency exits and its owner said only three floors of the eight-storey building were legally built. Surviving employees said gates had been locked and managers had told them to go back to work after the fire alarm went off.
A government panel concluded the fire was sabotage. No-one has been charged, though three officials accused of locking in workers have been arrested.
Siddiqur Rahman, vice-president of the garment association, said families of the 59 victims whose bodies were identified were in line for cheques. In addition, 80 workers injured in the fire had received 100,000 takas (£800) each.
The other 53 people killed were burned beyond recognition and buried in unmarked graves, after DNA samples were taken. Relatives had to provide samples for testing, which is ongoing.
Mr Rahman said the industry said the money should be disbursed by the end of next month. “We will do whatever we have promised,” he said.
He declined to explain why victims’ families had not yet received their November wages.
Kalpona Akter, of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, said the western brands that produced clothing in the factory had a responsibility to come to Bangladesh to check on the compensation situation.