A group of miscreants set fire to a multi-storey industrial unit of the Standard Group at Konabari in Gazipur on Thursday night, damaging the property that suspended the factory operation. No casualties, however, were reported as 27,000 people working there had left eight-storey building before it had been set on fire. Fire fighters took more than 15 hours to contain the flames, which burnt fabrics and machines, furniture and at least 23 vehicles, including 18 covered vans laden with finished products.
The authorities declared the building risky after the fire and stopped people from entering the building.
Witnesses said that some workers had gone on demonstrations about their wage increase on Thursday morning and they again gathered at night after the factory had stopped its operation about 10:00pm.
Mushfikur Rahman, a manager of the factory, said that ‘some workers’ had gathered in front of the factory about 11:00pm, picked up a quarrel with the police and started pelting the factory with stones.
The police forced people out of the factory area and fired rubber bullets. A man named Rashedul was injured.
At one point, a group on the PA system of a nearby mosque announced that the worker had been killed in the clash.
Witnesses said that the ‘workers,’ instigated by the rumour that a worker had been killed in police firing, along with some local goons had set fire to the building.
The fire fighters could not immediately reach the factory that was burning because of obstruction put up by the miscreants.
Mustafizur Rahman, additional superintendent of police (Gazipur south), confirmed that what was announced on the PA system was a rumour and alleged that some miscreants had set the factory on fire in a planned manner.
The police were preparing to file case in this connection.
Insiders termed the incident part of an international conspiracy to destroy the Bangladesh apparel sector.
The Standard Group, the second largest company in the country’s apparel sector, supplied products to GAP, ZARA, KOHL’s, American Eagle outfitters, Tommy Hilfiger, Sears and Gymboree, among others, international clients.
The apparel factory owners also blamed the government for its failure to stop such conspiracies.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association president, Atiqul Islam, said that such acts of sabotage had puzzled the entrepreneurs.
Many owners expressed their disappointment and said that they would reconsider whether they would run their business in such a situation.
The acting president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association Mohammed Hatem alleged that a number of external agents in the guise of workers had penetrated the apparel sector and they are serving the interest of some foreign countries.
The Gazipur deputy commissioner, Mohammad Nurul Islam, set up a seven-member committee, headed by additional district magistrate Mohammad Mohsin, to investigate the incident. The committee has been asked to submit its report in seven days.
None of the workers on Friday morning were willing to talk against the management of the Standard Group and many expressed concern about their future.
The Standard Group, owned by Engineer Mosharraf Hussain, started its apparel manufacturing operation in 1984 under the corporate operation of the Civil Engineers Limited.
-With New Age input