- Fortune Shoes moved to Barishal from Chattogram in 2012
- Has turned into a Tk300-crore company
- Fortune authorities have decided to shift factories to Ashulia in Dhaka
- Around 5,000 workers – 90% of them village women – work in Fortune factories
- Nearly 50,000 people directly and indirectly depend on Fortune Group
Mizanur Rahman had relocated his small factory from Chattogram to Barishal in 2012 to avail of malleable workforces and cheaper land.
Over the years, his Fortune Shoes grew into an export-oriented company bagging orders worth Tk120 crore even during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Now, the owner has decided to relocate his factories further, this time to save his business and life from extortionists.
Fortune Group is operating a factory in Ashulia where a building with 1.59 lakh square feet is lying vacant. The factories in Barishal Bscic estate are likely to be shifted there.
"Many factories had to shut down in Ashulia during the coronavirus pandemic and owners of those factories are offering me their buildings on minimum rentals. I've already talked to two factory owners about renting their buildings," said Mizanur Rhman, chairman of Fortune Group.
Once the Fortune factories move out of the Barishal Bscic industrial estate, jobs of around 5,000 workers – mostly women from nearby villages whom the company picked and trained up as skilled shoemakers – will be at stake.
On the other hand, the Bscic will lose a Tk300-crore company, which is one of a few success stories in an industrially backward region like Barishal.
Mizanur's decision was prompted by the assault on a director of his business group on Saturday after he refused to pay money to local rent-seekers, allegedly backed by a vested group of influential politicians from Barishal city.
Since no arrest was made even five days after the incident, he has now made up his mind to leave the Barishal Bscic estate due to lack of congenial atmosphere for industries and relocate all factories of Fortune Group to Ashulia in Dhaka.
"I am going to announce it on Sunday next," the group chairman said on Thursday.
The factories would be shifted after four months and all preparations would be completed by the time.
A complaint was lodged with Kownia police station on 24 October immediately after the assault on Shafiul Azam, director of MJ Industries – a concern of Fortune Group.
But police filed the complaint as a case on 26 October. The law enforcers did not even try to arrest the accused after the filing of the case, regretted Mizanur Rahman.
"After the incident, I have been disturbed from various corners related to the industry," he said.
"We've already discussed with our officers about our factory relocation. The workers will be informed officially in the next week," said Amanur Rahman, managing director of the group.
"It is unfortunate that we have to leave Barishal, which will give rise to extra expenditures for re-establishment," he added.
Contacted for his comments on this, Jahangir Hossain Manik, vice president of Barishal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he was not informed about Fortune Shoes' decision about the factory relocation.
"But now as I'm informed, we will try our best to change the decision. We will try to solve his problems," said.
What it means for workers
"It is the most shocking news for me that Fortune Group is relocating.
"As the chief of all workers I have been looking after all their problems and resolving those, but now I can't take the responsibilities of their job after the relocation of the factory," said the chief executive officer of the company Mohammad Redwan.
The company is a great asset for Barishal. It has been operating various social responsibilities and relief works, said the CEO, adding that they distributed relief goods worth around Tk3 crore among the people of the adjacent areas during the pandemic.
Around 50,000 people are directly and indirectly depending on the factories of the Fortune Shoes, mentioned Redwan.
Workers are worried about their livelihood and blaming the administration for its failure to ensure security in the Bscic estate.
"We have been informed that the owner of our company is going to shift the factory due to the weaknesses of the local administration and police," said Sharmin Akter, a worker leader.
"I have been working with the company for eight years. If the factory is shifted, my family will fall in peril as I have no way to go to Dhaka for a job leaving my ill mother alone in the house," said Sultana, a worker of the company.
If the company stops its operations in Barishal, these families will have to starve, said Eva Begum, another worker leader of the factory.
Physically challenged Serajul Islam who works as a technician said the company has been paying him salaries for the last two years, even though he cannot work after suffering a brain stroke.
"If the company shifts to Dhaka, I will have to go begging," he said in utter despair.
It is the biggest industry in Barishal and around 90% of its workers are female. Most of them will not be able to work if Fortune moves out of Barishal.
"I have been working to ensure a safe environment for all the entrepreneurs. The Bscic estate will be safe if we can surround it by boundary walls," said Jalij Mahmud, deputy manager of Barishal Bscic.
Stressing that the business environment in Barishal must be made safe and congenial for entrepreneurs at any cost, Ajijor Rahman, deputy commissioner (DC) of Barishal, said none can spoil the business environment.
"I am working to address the recent incidents taking place in the Bscic area," he said.
"The law and order situation in the city, including Bscic estate, is fully under control. No incident has happened that can spoil the law and order situation and hamper the business environment at the Bsicic area," said the commissioner of Barishal Metropolitan Police (BMP).
"The owner of the company should inform the government why he wants to relocate his factories. His workers should be informed immediately so that they can take their own decisions about their wage earnings," said Zahid Farook Shamim, lawmaker from Barishal Sadar and also the state minister for water resources.
"I am ready to give all kinds of support to the company if they need," he added