Photo by Andrew Biraj for Reuters
The death toll in the Bangladesh garment-factory collapse on Wednesday has risen to at least 228 people, per the latest numbers from Reuters. Survivors from the disaster told described a “deafening bang” and tremors before the eight-floor Rana Plaza building fell out from under them. An unspecified number of victims still remain trapped, authorities say. “We can’t be certain of getting them all out alive,” Mizanur Rahman, a rescue worker with the fire brigade, told the wire service. “We are losing a bit of hope.” As the government declared a national day of mourning, with flags flown at half-mast at all official buildings, Dhaka’s district police chief Habibur Rahman said the number of dead could rise even further. Eighty percent of the people who worked there were young women aged between 18 and 20, according to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights.
PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: Bangladesh Garment-Factory Collapse Kills Nearly 100 People, Injures a Thousand
Ali Ahmed Khan, head of the National Fire Service, told reporters that a preliminary investigation found that Rana Plaza violated building codes by constructing the four upper floors illegally without permits. “There was a structural fault, as well,” he added, indicating that the building’s foundation was “substandard.”
Bangladesh’s news media noted that inspection teams had discovered cracks in the structure of Rana Plaza on Tuesday.
Bangladesh’s news media also noted that inspection teams had discovered cracks in the structure of Rana Plaza on Tuesday. Shops and a bank branch on the lower floors were immediately closed, but the owners of the garment factories on the upper floors told employees to return to work on Wednesday morning or they wouldn’t be paid.
Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers’ Rights Consortium, told CNN that disasters keep happening because retailers compel factories to lower prices, which results in substandard safety conditions.
The average minimum wage is 14 cents an hour, and senior sewing operators make about 24 cents, he said. “These are the lowest wages in the world, and the factories with the worst health and safety conditions,” Nova added. “Yet the big companies love the cheap wages, the long hours, because they are all about the costs.”
Photo by Worker Rights Consortium
British retailer Primark, which has 257 stores across Europe, confirmed that one of its suppliers occupied the second floor of the building, adding it was “shocked and deeply saddened by the appalling incident” and will be working with other retailers to review the South Asian country’s approach to factory standards.
Major brands that appeared to have sourced from the building include Walmart, Bennetton, Mango, Joe Fresh, The Children’s Place, Cato, Dress Barn, and Texman.
PWT Group, the Danish company that owns the Texman brand, said it used a factory in the building for several years. “We check the working conditions at the factory, but we are not construction engineers. We cannot be held responsible for how they build their factories,” PWT director Ole Koch said.
Loblaw, a Canadian retailer that markets the apparel brand Joe Fresh, said one factory made a small number of Joe Fresh items for the company. Loblaw, in a statement on the Joe Fresh Facebook page, said it was working with its vendor in Bangladesh to determine what caused the tragedy and how to best help the employees and their families. “Our audits align with those of industry around the world; however in light of the recent tragedies in Bangladesh we recognize that these measures do not address the issue of building construction or integrity,” it wrote. “Loblaw is committed to finding solutions to this situation by expanding the scope of our requirements to ensure the physical safety of workers producing our products. We want to improve and we want to find a solution that helps stop these incidents from happening.”
Other textile businesses in the building, according to documents obtained by reporters, included Phantom Apparel, New Wave Style, New Wave Bottoms, and New Wave Brothers, which produce clothing for U.S. and European brands such as The Children’s Place, Cato, Dress Barn, Spain’s Mango, and Italy’s Benetton. Although a Benetton spokesman denied that any of the factories were suppliers to the company, Mango said it had an unfulfilled sample order with Phantom Apparel at the plaza.
Ether Tex, another factory in the building, named on its website Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, as one of its customers. Walmart said in a statement that it’s currently investigating the situation.