Bangladesh garment factory collapse kills hundreds, ignites massive protests

[Bangladesh’s garment industry, the second-largest exporter of clothing after China, has a notoriously poor fire safety record. Since 2006, nearly 1000 Bangladeshi workers have died in factory fires and building collapses, according to Clean Clothes Campaign, an anti-sweatshop advocacy group in Amsterdam. Experts say many of the fires could have easily been avoided, but the profits generated by the lowest wages and no corporate spending on safety and health conditions have made the garment industry a death trap.  The industry employs more than three million workers in Bangladesh, most of them women. Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart dismiss their responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes. “These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work with are death traps,” Ineke Zeldenrust, the international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, said in a statement. “Their failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence.” — Frontlines ed.]

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Token, symbolic arrests over Bangladesh building collapse

Owners of collapsed buildings and an engineer responsible for maintenance arrested while death toll rises to 324

 27 Apr 2013
Bangladeshi police say they have made three arrests after a garment factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 300 people.The building’s owners and an engineer who was responsible for maintenance were arrested on Saturday after the death toll rose to 324.

“We’ve arrested Bazlus Samad, the chairman of New Wave Buttons and New Wave Style factories, and Mahmudur Rahaman Tapash, a managing director of one of these plants, after midnight,” Shyamal Mukherjee, deputy chief of Dhaka police, told AFP news agency.
image

[Associated Press–Bangladeshis watch the rescue operations at the site of the collapse on Thursday.]

One manager for the New Wave Styles company, one of the five manufacturers in the building, said the owner had consulted an engineer but then ignored his warnings.”Those who’re involved, especially the owner who forced the workers to work there, will be punished,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told lawmakers.

“Wherever he is, he will be found and brought to justice.”

The police said they plan to arrest at least ten more, after the Hasina’s statement.

Widespread anger has been fuelled by revelations that factory bosses forced 3,000 workers to continue working on Wednesday despite police orders to evacuate the building because of cracks found in the structure the day before.

Thousands of garment factory workers in Bangladesh protested on Friday.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Friday as protesters attacked factories and smashed vehicles, forcing many garment factories to shut down operations.

“The situation is very volatile. Hundreds of thousands of workers have joined the protests,” M Asaduzzaman, an officer in the police control room, told the AFP news agency. “We fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them.”

He said some of the protesters were armed with bamboo sticks and their actions had forced factories at Gazipur, just outside the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, to close for the day.

Mustafizur Rahman, the deputy police chief of Gazipur, said workers had attacked factories, smashed vehicles, burnt tyres on the roads and tried to torch roadside shops on the sidelines of the rally.

“They are demanding the arrest and execution of the owners of the factories and the collapsed building at Savar,” he told AFP.

The overnight rescue of 45 people late on Thursday who were trapped inside the debris of the eight-storey building in the commercial suburb of Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, raised hopes of thousands of relatives.

Al Jazeera’s special correspondent, not named for security reasons, said that the rescue workers did not have proper equipment.

“It’s quite a risky operation and concerete can collapse at any moment on whoever is alive on the inside,” said our correspondent reporting from Dhaka.

Hundreds trapped

An estimated 2,000 people had been rescued in two days, at least half of them injured, but up to 1,000 people remained unaccounted for, the Reuters news agency reports.

Given the long record of worker deaths in factories, this tragedy was sadly predictable — Brad Adams,
Asia Director for  Human Rights Watch

[SB10001424127887323789704578446532808726520]It prompted new criticism of Western companies who were accused by activists of placing profit before safety by sourcing their products from the country despite its shocking track record of deadly disasters.

British low-cost fashion line Primark and Spanish giant Mango have acknowledged having their products made in the collapsed block, while a host of brands including Wal-Mart and France’s Carrefour are investigating.

Italy’s Benetton placed large orders with one of the suppliers, documents found by activists appeared to show, but the group has denied having links to the building.

The US said it could not confirm whether any US companies were sourcing garments from the complex, as protesters in San Francisco targeted the headquarters of Gap with banners reading “No More Death Traps”.

“But i  t does underscore that there’s a need for the government, owners, buyers and labour to find ways of improving working conditions in Bangladesh,”  Patrick Ventrell, a deputy State Department spokesman, said.

Human Rights Watch said the tragedy showed there was an “urgent need to improve Bangladesh’s protections for worker health and safety”.

“Reforms should include a drastic overhaul of the government’s system of labour inspections and an end to government efforts to thwart the right of workers to unionise,” the rights body said.

“Given the long record of worker deaths in factories, this tragedy was sadly predictable,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement published on the group

[Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images–Bangladeshi soldiers and police ran Friday from angry villagers near a building that collapsed Wednesday near Dhaka.]’s website.

 

At the site of a collapsed factory complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, rescue workers searched among the rubble as distraught family members of missing workers waited for word of their loved ones. Video by Zain Syed via WorldStream.

More than 700 people have died in factory fires in Bangladesh in recent years, workers’ groups estimate, and hundreds more in building collapses.

Rana Plaza was evacuated on Tuesday after a crack appeared on an exterior wall, but factory managers coerced workers to return to their jobs the next day, workers said. Mr. Rana, who told workers on Tuesday that the building would stand “for another 100 years,” according to workers, hasn’t made any public comments since the collapse. Attempts to reach him weren’t successful.

An estimated 3,000 to 3,500 workers were in Rana Plaza when it collapsed, leaving about two stories visible of a building that had had eight occupied floors and a ninth under construction.

A senior fire service official said 2,350 people had been rescued from the building and hundreds of people remained unaccounted for.

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Agence France-Presse/Getty ImagesPolice fire tear gas after relatives of the missing and dead burst into protests on Friday at the site of the building collapse.

On Friday, limbs of victims protruded from the fallen masonry and volunteers sprayed scented air freshener around the site to obscure the stench of decomposed flesh.

As wailing relatives pushed against a cordon that volunteers had created around the site, army engineers tunneled through an adjoining building to reach the lower floors of Rana Plaza. Cries for help could be heard wafting through cracks in the concrete. Rescuers continued to try to free what they said were 40 people trapped in one section of the debris.

As each survivor was carried out, waiting families craned their necks to catch any sign of movement. Every survivor was wildly cheered, the noise almost drowning out the sirens of waiting ambulances.

Army officers coordinating a rescue team of soldiers, firefighters and local volunteers said on Friday they were continuing with search-and-rescue efforts. In the aftermath of earthquakes, rescue teams often continue searching for survivors for around five days.

Tens of thousands of garment workers protested Friday on the streets of Bangladesh’s capital, vandalizing cars in some areas and ransacking several textile factories, police officers said.

As the recovery site, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. Authorities at one point suspended search operations for two hours until the clashes ended.

Building collapses are common in South Asia due to poor construction techniques, shoddy materials and few inspections, allowing owners to cut costs.

Industrial Disasters in Asia

In India, two hospital attendants died when a wing of a government-run hospital in Bhopal in central India collapsed Friday. Twenty-five people were rescued and admitted to a nearby hospital. But at least 30 others, including patients and hospital staff, were still trapped inside, police said.

Anger also is mounting in Bangladesh and abroad among workers’ representatives, who said foreign brands should do more to monitor safety at Bangladeshi suppliers.

Retailers depend on third-party audits of factories, but often these spot checks don’t take into consideration a building’s structural integrity.

International monitoring groups pulled crumpled documents, clothing and brand packaging from the building’s rubble Friday to determine which Western retailers had contracted with garment factories in the Rana Plaza complex.

Spanish department store El Corte Ingles SA confirmed its clothes were being produced at one of the factories in the building and said it had relied on a safety audit that had cleared the factory. It blamed the collapse on the failure of local authorities to monitor building safety.

The factory had passed an audit by the Business Social Compliance Initiative, a monitoring group set up by the Brussels-based Foreign Trade Association, which is supposed to “monitor and improve the social and labor conditions of the supplier companies,” a spokeswoman said. Local authorities are responsible for the safety of the infrastructure of industrial buildings, she said.

Compiled from various news sources

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