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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Bangladesh shuts giant factory
The last shift wraps up work before closing down
The mills once spearheaded Bangladesh's industry

Nearly 25,000 workers at Bangladesh's largest factory - reputedly the world's biggest jute mill - have lost their jobs as the Adamjee jute mills shut down on Sunday.


I spent half of my life here. This mill is built upon our blood and sweat

Rafiq Mia, ex-worker
The mill, hub of the industrial town of Narayanganj, began operations 51 years ago. Employees leave with promises of modest redundancy pay and an uncertain future.

Sirens wailed for the last time at Adamjeenagar, 20 kilometres from Dhaka, as workers walked to the factory early on Sunday.

The government announced the closure of the mill on the grounds that it had incurred huge losses over the last three decades and there was no practical way of keeping it going.

Adamjee mills, once a proud national showcase, became a white elephant due to rampant corruption and declining global demand for jute products.

The massive factory was also a hotbed of trade unionism, which many trade union leaders successfully used as a springboard for building a career in national politics.

'Moral defeat'

But surprisingly, there was little opposition from trade union leaders this time around when the government unveiled its plan to shut down the mill.

A worker just made redundant
Many Adamjee workers have known no other jobs
Workers had successfully resisted previous moves to close down the jute mills. But this time, they were divided.

Older workers nearing retirement age preferred to go back home with the compensation the government offered.

But young workers, who have just begun their careers, were opposed to the closure.

Fearing labour unrest, the authorities deployed hundreds of extra police and paramilitary troops around the mills.

Militant trade union leaders had threatened to launch violent protests if the government went ahead with its plan, but their rhetoric failed to create much interest among the workers.

Dr Debapriyo Bhattacharya, a prominent economist, said this was a "moral defeat" for the workers. "They accepted the fact that there is no way to make the jute mill profitable and some day it has to be closed down," he said.

Lost lustre

Jute was once Bangladesh's number one export, and was fondly called the golden fibre, for the valuable foreign exchange it earned for the country.

Children cry as their school shuts down
Many children face an uncertain future
But the natural fibre lost its market to synthetic products, and world-wide demand began falling in the 1970s.

Adamjee Jute Mills, established by a leading Pakistani industrialist, was taken over by the government after Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan. Workers say that is when its decline began.

Last year, the mill incurred a loss of $33 million. The mills' accumulated loss now stands at $172 million.

There was mounting pressure from the World Bank and other donors to shut down the mill and finally the government gave way.

Unanswered questions

On Sunday, there were emotional scenes at the Adamjee jute mills, as workers were preparing to go home.

Worker's family going back to their village home
The workers will have to leave Adamjeenagar
They hugged each other, while some burst into tears.

Rafiq Mia has worked at Adamjee for 36 years. He said: "I spent half of my life here. This mill is built upon our blood and sweat. Now we have to leave this behind. I don't know what I will do now."

The children of the workers face an even more uncertain future.

Four schools run by the jute mills will also shut down and the workers have to move out of the mill compound with their families.

At Adamjee girls high school, students were crying as they said good bye to each other. Several girls fainted.

Parul, daughter of a worker, asked, "Why does our school have to be shut down, why can't we have a chance to complete our education ?"

See also:

20 Jun 02 | Business
29 Apr 02 | Business
07 Apr 02 | Business
25 Oct 01 | Business
23 Oct 01 | Business
17 Oct 01 | South Asia
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