Friday, April 26, 2013


Up to 1,000 feared dead after Bangladesh factory collapse

There are fears as many as 1,000 people may have died in a building collapse that is now Bangladesh's worst ever industrial accident.

At least 272 people, mainly female workers, are confirmed to have died, and more than 1,000 were injured, when the Rana Plaza factory building in Savar, 30 kilometres outside the capital Dhaka, collapsed on Wednesday.

Hundreds of people are still missing and rescuers say they can still hear trapped people screaming for help from the wreckage.
The disaster today sparked a mass rally by garment workers, who clashed with police.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the angry crowds as the workers, some armed with bamboo sticks, blockaded roads and attacked factories in the textile hub of Gazipur.

Rescuers said at least half of those still inside the collapsed building were women and children, and the building also housed a creche on its 7th floor.

For a second night, local residents have used torches and dug with crowbars and their bare hands to find survivors and bodies beneath twisted wreckage.

They dropped in bottled water and food to people trapped in the rubble, with 41 people being pulled alive out of one hole in the wreckage.

Hours later, rescuers hauled another 45 people alive from the rubble.

Survivors said the building developed visible cracks on Tuesday evening, but factory bosses had demanded staff return to the production lines despite a police evacuation order.

"We were working inside the building when it collapsed," one survivor said.

"I was still working, I could not understand what happened, my co-worker told me why are you sitting here? Run run. Before I could reach the exit the building collapsed."

The collapse of the multi-storey building is the worst industrial accident in the country's history and the latest in a spate of tragedies in the "Made in Bangladesh" clothing sector.
The largest factory in the stricken complex, New Wave Style, lists international retailers such as Benetton among its clients.

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

Now charities have warned that major Western clothing retailers who demand ever-cheaper prices are fuelling conditions for tragedies like the factory collapse.

"What we're saying is that bargain-basement [clothing] is automatically leading towards these types of disasters," John Hilary, executive director at British charity War on Want, told Reuters.
He said Western clothing retailers' desire to undercut rivals had translated into increasing pressure on foreign suppliers to reduce costs.

"If you've got that, then it's absolutely clear that you're not going to be able to have the right kind of building regulations, health and safety, fire safety. Those things will become more and more impossible as the cost price goes down," he said.

Mr Hilary said the push for lower costs inevitably led to factories cutting corners. "As a result of that, we see the sort of disaster that happened yesterday," he said.

Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi workers walked out of their factories in solidarity with their dead colleagues on Thursday as flags flew at half mast and a national day of mourning was held.
War on Want and its partner in Bangladesh, the National Garment Workers' Federation, called on major international buyers to be held to account.

"This negligence must stop. The deaths of these workers could have been avoided if multinational corporations, governments and factory owners took workers' protection seriously," NGWF president Amirul Haque Amin said in a statement.
Gareth Price-Jones, Bangladesh country director of British charity Oxfam, said Western companies had not done enough.

"Western buyers could be doing much, much more, and they have a moral responsibility to do so," he said.

"Western buyers really need to press for decent wages and safe working conditions."

He said Bangladeshi building regulations were not robust enough for construction in an earthquake zone and were, in any case, frequently ignored.

Around 4,500 Bangladeshi factories produce clothes for many of the world's major brands, employing 4 million workers and generating 80 per cent of Bangladesh's $US24 billion annual exports, making it the world's second-largest apparel exporter behind China.

But with wages as low as $37 a month for some workers toiling for 10 to 15 hours a day, and increasing publicity about unsanitary and unsafe working conditions, some retailers are getting worried about their reputation.

Many have introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, where they carry out factory audits and inspections and talk to employees about worker conditions.

But War on Want says the CSR processes are often flawed.

"What happens is the workers are trained in what to say, the factories present favourable books and keep back the real books," Mr Hilary said, noting that in countries like China there were courses to coach factories on how to pass an audit without telling the truth.

The Savar disaster came five months after Bangladesh's worst factory fire, which killed 112 people, and another incident at a factory in January in which seven died.

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Respect for the truth is almost the basis of all morality.
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