A juice-factory owner in Bangladesh was arrested and charged with murder after 52 workers, including children as young as 11, died in a fire

·3 min read
Five firefighters carry a hose among the black and gray debris and smoke at a Bangladesh factory.
Firefighters working at the site of a fire in a juice factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed 52 people. Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters
  • A factory fire in Bangladesh on Thursday killed 52 workers, including as many as 16 children.

  • The owner of the factory and his four sons were arrested following the deadly blaze.

  • "It was a deliberate murder," the district's police chief told Agence France-Presse.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

The owner of a juice factory in Bangladesh was arrested and charged with murder after a fire on Thursday killed 52 workers, including several children, the police told the local paper the Dhaka Tribune.

Md Abul Hashem, the CEO of the company that owns the factory, and his four sons were among the eight people the police detained on Saturday, the police told the Tribune.

The factory fire happened in the town of Rupganj, just outside Bangladesh's capital of Dhaka.

Workers were trapped inside because an exit had been padlocked, an official told Agence-France Presse. The factory was also storing highly flammable plastics and chemicals, the AFP report said.

"It was a deliberate murder," Jayedul Alam, the district's police chief, told AFP.

The website of Sajeeb Group, the company that owns the factory, showed an apology note saying it sought forgiveness for the fire and was "on the side" of the families of the deceased. Insider was not immediately able to reach Sajeeb Group for comment for this story.

Children as young as 11 are said to be among the missing and the dead. Monnujan Sufian, the state minister for labor, told AFP that a separate investigation had been launched into child labor at the factory.

Bangladesh's Unicef representative said in a statement on Sunday that as many as 16 children were said to have died in the fire.

"This tragic incident brings to light yet again that despite laws that should protect them, many children in Bangladesh are not only working, but they are working in hazardous conditions," the statement said.

A lack of fire-safety and labor inspections by authorities is common in Bangladesh, said Sharmin Akter, a lawyer who works with high-court matters for the nonprofit organization Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust.

Akter told Insider that Thursday's fire was a "complete violation" of workers' rights to life and safe workplaces.

"It's high time that we ensure proper inspections are carried out," Akter said. "If the fire-safety inspectors had found these issues and confronted the factory owners before, or if the labor inspectors found that they had been hiring children, this would most probably have been prevented."

Employing children under 14 is illegal in Bangladesh. But as of 2019, there were 1.3 million child laborers in Bangladesh between 5 and 14, accounting for 4.3% of the country's workforce, according to the US Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

Akter said that young children often get hired in Bangladesh using fake papers that claim they are 14 or older.

"Child labor has become quite common here," she said, adding that the onus is on companies and the authorities to prevent such lapses.

Bangladesh also has a history of deadly industrial disasters and fires. In 2012, a textile factory fire in Dhaka left 117 people dead; reports suggested that the exits had been locked. The next year, a building that housed five garment factories in Dhaka collapsed, killing 1,132 people and injuring more than 2,500 other people.

Akter said that though negligent owners are often arrested following industrial disasters like Thursday's, the court takes years to resolve their cases, and people are often released on bail. She pointed to the 2012 factory fire as an example: Authorities made some arrests, she said, but the court is still hearing the case, no one has been sentenced.

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