Bosses ignored building cracks in Bangladesh factory collapse


At least 400 workers were killed and more than 1000 people were injured when an eight-storey commercial building collapsed in Bangladesh on Wednesday morning.

Hundreds of people remain trapped in the rubble of the Rana Plaza building complex in the Dhaka suburb of Savar – 19 miles away from the Bangladeshi capital.

According to the Reuters news agency, the complex housed five garment factories employing as many as 5000 workers.

This includes the New Wave factory, which supplies clothes to major global retailers such as Mango, Primark and Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws.

Ether Tex Ltd, which supplies garments for buyers such as Walmart and C&A, was also housed in the complex, as was Phantom TAC, a joint venture knit factory with a Spanish textile company which boasted on its website of its “unique Social Transparency Tag” assuring the “high standards of working conditions in the factory”.

The building also housed a bank and several shops.

At the time of the collapse, 2,000 people were said to have been on the upper floors of the building.

Rescue workers have been joined by the family and friends of those still trapped, desperately trying to save people with little equipment or safety clothing.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister MK Alamgir, told reporters with the Daily Star that the building probably collapsed due to “faulty construction”.

Cracks in the building had appeared on Tuesday but were not taken seriously.

Factory owners ignored a warning not to allow workers back into the building when cracks first appeared.


A dark history

Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter after China, and the industry represents as much as 80 per cent of the country’s manufacturing exports.

But the sector is shrouded in low wages and poor working conditions, and there are few trade unions.

As a result, the Rana Plaza collapse is only the latest tragedy in a string of workplace accidents which have claimed hundreds of lives over the years.

In November 2012, more than 110 people died in a fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory, which supplied global brands such as Walmart and Sears.

In a shocking act of negligence, garment workers were ordered to work through the fire alarm, and when it became obvious that the fire was real, the managers left, trapping the workers inside.

The Tazreen fire demonstrated the horrific working conditions endured by Bangladeshi garment workers, who earn a minimum wage of about 40 US dollars per month.

Building safety is also a grave concern in Bangladesh, where sub-standard structures are put up cheaply, quickly and often without permission. In 2005, 64 workers at Spectrum Garments factory – also in Savar – were killed when the structure collapsed.

And then there’s the issue of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

“The Rana Plaza collapse highlights again the utter lack of competent inspections by the government, which could have detected the structural defects in the building,” says Jeff Vogt, Legal Advisor at the International Trade Union Confederation.

“The fact that the garment companies apparently put their workers in danger with full knowledge of the crumbling state of the building is breathtaking.”

It is unclear as yet what kind of social auditing may have been in place in any of these factories. However, as pointed out in the new AFL-CIO report, even with such systems are in place, the lives of workers are still placed in mortal danger.