This paper considers what ‘justice’ means in the context of the demands raised by victims and the legal recourse available following workplace deaths and injuries in Bangladesh. It considers the adequacy of the law and its implementation in achieving justice. It also considers how demands for justice are articulated in such cases – whether by the victims, the families of deceased workers, or injured workers, their lawyers or trade unionists and activists speaking for and on their behalf. Finally, it examines and assesses the responses to such demands from the state and from other voices in society, and how these differ from other prevailing national narratives and discourses on large scale violence, death and suffering.
The paper considers two different kinds of justice – remedial justice through compensation, and retributive justice through the use of the criminal law. It also looks at two different kinds of workplace death and injury – those that are one-off deaths and injuries (which receive very limited media and public attention) and those that are the results of a mass disaster. In relation to each of them, it details what rights Bangladesh law provides to the injured workers and dependent families – for compensation, and how effective the system is in ensuring that they receive a level of financial remuneration that is perceived as just. The paper also considers the effectiveness of the criminal law in achieving retributive justice in both kinds of workplace incident. The paper finds significant deficiencies in law and practice – though families made dependent and workers injured as a result of a mass disaster are increasingly likely to receive adequate compensation (through the intervention of foreign buyers), and, although this remains a remote scenario still, possibly even a level of retributive justice, through criminal prosecution of those responsible.
Sara Hossain, is a barrister practicing in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, mainly in the areas of constitutional, public interest and family law, since 1992.
Sara is associated with several legal aid and human rights groups nationally and internationally. She currently serving as Honorary Director of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Service Trust. She is also Chairperson of the Dhaka-based human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra Internationally, Sara is, among others, a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Member, of the Human Rights Committee of the International Law Association (ILA), Member of the Advisory Committee of the Women’s International Coalition on Gender Justice (WICG), and also served as a Board Member of the South Asia Women’s Fund (SAWF).
Sara earlier ran the South Asia Programme at INTERIGHTS from 1997 to 2003, and was involved in supporting human rights litigation before national and international courts including the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee on the use of international and comparative human rights law, on a multi-country study on honour crimes (together with the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, SOAS), and on training and organizing dialogues and colloquia for judges and lawyers.
Sara was educated at Wadham College, Oxford (MA (Hons) 1988), called to the Bar from Middle Temple (1989) and enrolled in the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh (1992) and then in the Appellate Division in 2008.