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Repeated incidents causing injuries and deaths in Bangladeshi workplaces, often involving minors, are linked to systemic and regulatory issues rather than individual whims. Due to their frequency and similarity, these incidents can no longer be considered unforeseen accidents but results of managerial or structural negligence.

On July 9th, 2021, amidst the pandemic, a fire at Hashem Foods Factory – a sister concern of Sajeeb Group of Companies – resulted in at least 52 deaths. The familiar scene of relatives presenting passport-sized photos of the deceased was a grim reminder of the country’s history of institutional negligence and justice denial.

Investigations and news reports revealed that Hashem Foods factory operated with a breech of building codes unregulated chemical deposit, and lacked necessary clearances and a fire safety system. Despite evidence of child labor found by the Narayanganj district administration, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments disputed these findings. Narayanganj Deputy Commissioner Mostain Billah confirmed the presence of child labor and pledged to send a report with recommendations to the Ministry of Labour.

Frequent accidents across various sectors in Bangladesh often result in loss of life and property. Despite their recurrence, effective preventative measures are inconsistently implemented, indicating a failure of the authorities to address contributing factors.

 

Compensation for accidents, when provided, is often minimal, allowing culpable institutions to evade accountability by paying 2 Lakh Taka ( approximately $2000) per life lost. In July 2021, Mohammad Abul Hashem, owner of Hashem Foods Limited, and his two sons were granted bail by a Narayanganj court, nine days after their arrest on murder charges related to the factory fire that claimed at least 52 lives. A settlement of 2 Lakh Taka per deceased worker precluded further investigation or liability. No government or relevant entities or agencies were held accountable, including the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Fire Service & Civil Defense, and Ministry of Labour.

These factors contribute to the recurrence of similar accidents in Bangladesh, suggesting structural preconditions behind most accidents. This photo series proceeds by reevaluating these preconditions, and examining institutional killings at the Hashem Food Factory.

Portraits of the late workers, sourced from news outlets and families, were rephotographed using diverse photographic techniques. These methods highlighted the government agencies that failed safety obligations. Architectural models and sketches served as photographic subjects to recreate a comparable public display.

Photographs, 2021-2023

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© 2023

Debashish Chakrabarty
All Rights Reserved 

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