Bangladesh bosses ask Western firms to stay after tragedy
Bangladeshi textile bosses pleaded with Western clothing giants to keep doing business with them after nearly 400 people died in a factory collapse as hopes of finding more survivors faded.
- Published: 29/04/2013 at 12:49 AM
- Newspaper section: news
Bangladeshi property tycoon Sohel Rana (C) is escorted into court in Dhaka on April 29, 2013. Bangladeshi textile bosses have pleaded with Western clothing giants to keep doing business with them after nearly 400 people died in the factory building collapse.
Organisers of the mammoth rescue effort ordered in cranes on Monday to clear the ruins of what was once an eight-storey factory compound before it caved in five days ago while some 3,000 textile workers were on shift.
As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid her first visit to the tangle of concrete, the confirmed the number of dead stood at 382.
But the toll is expected to shoot up now that heavy lifting equipment is being used. Rescuers had earlier been wary of using anything but hand-held drills over fears that machinery could force more masonry to collapse onto survivors.
Emergency workers, who have been toiling amid the stench of rotting corpses, were shattered by the death late Sunday of a female garment worker who had clung to life against the odds before being overwhelmed by a fire at the scene.
The tragedy has once again focused attention on poor safety conditions in the $20-billion (15-billion-euro) Bangladeshi garment industry, the world's second-biggest after China's.
Britain's Primark and Spain's Mango have confirmed that their products were made in the block. Italy's Benetton acknowledged having its clothes made in Rana Plaza recently, but claimed it was a "one-time order".
Primark and Canadian supermarket giant Loblaw said they would pay compensation to victims who worked for their suppliers.
"Our priorities are helping the victims and their families, and driving change to help prevent similar incidents in the future," Loblaw said.
Worried that Western firms could look elsewhere, manufacturers met representatives of at least 30 leading brand names such as Walmart, H&M and Gap on Monday in a bid to assure them about safety standards.
The meeting ended with an announcement that the manufacturers and buyers had agreed to form a joint panel to come up with a firm safety action plan.
Shahidullah Azim, of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said the brands were told "that we're taking action to prevent a repeat of such tragedies" and urged "not to cancel orders and shipments".
"We need their help -- they are part of us," said Azim, whose organisation represents more than 4,500 factories.
Roger Hubert, the country vice president of Hong Kong-based Li and Fung, acknowledged that retailers were considering their futures in Bangladesh.
"Today, I believe, in most countries... the buyers are sitting together to consider whether or not they can still buy from Bangladesh. I think that is a fact. It might sound very harsh, but that's the reality," he told AFP.
Jenefa Jabbar, the regional social responsibilities director of US clothing chain JC Penney, said retailers wanted to see "a top-down approach... to address the fire safety and building safety issues".
A fire at another factory last November in the industrial hub of Ashulia, where clothing for the likes of Walmart was being made, killed 111 people.
The industry accounts for 80 percent of the country's exports and more than 40 percent of its industrial workforce.
A typical textile worker earns less than $40 a month, with most working around 10 hours a day, six days a week.
It is not known how many people are trapped in the rubble of the collapsed building. Hundreds of relatives remain at the scene, many clutching photos of their loved ones, but officials held out little hope.
The death of the female garment worker identified as Shannaz, whose courageous struggle became a symbol of hope, cast a deep pall over the rescue effort.
Firefighters were seen weeping after the widowed mother of one lost her battle for life when the fire broke out.
One of the leaders of the rescue operation said they would be "doing things very carefully" in case anyone else had managed to stay alive, but that they were "assuming that there is no survivor".
Seven people have so far been arrested over the disaster, including the overall owner of the complex, property tycoon Sohel Rana, who was detained as he attempted to cross into India and was flown back to Dhaka.
Among the others facing charges of causing "death by negligence" are two engineers who are alleged to have given the building the all-clear on Tuesday night after large cracks were found in the walls.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
- Position: News agency