Following last weeks fatal factory collapse workers in Dhaka are furious and have taken to the streets to be recognised. In Bangladesh protests drew more than 100,000 people according to Police, with some protestors demanding the execution of the factory bosses over the deaths of more than 400 in the collapse of the eight story Rana Plaza complex last week.
The complex built in 2006 over swampy ground in Savar, on Dhaka’s outskirts, housed five separate factories as well as a bank and shops. Up to 3500 people were in the building at the time, which had been evacuated a day earlier due to cracks appearing in the walls. Following the earlier evacuation the buildings owners and factory managers forced workers back inside, not seeing a need to be concerned.
After the incident, and a previous incident in November last year at Dhakas Tazreen Fashion Factory where 112 lives were lost, the EU has been quick to respond. The EU has warned Bangladesh and the apparel industry to improve clothing factory safety or risk trade sanctions. Currently 60% of Bangladesh’s apparel exports go to Europe.
“The sheer scale of this disaster and the alleged criminality around the building’s construction is finally becoming clear to the world,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Trade Commissioner Karel de Guchthton said in a joint statement, referring to Savar.
Bangladesh’s low-wage garment industry earns the South Asian nation $20 billion (15 billion euros) a year, making it the second-largest garment producer after China. Most of the 4 million garment factory employees in the country’s 5000 factories work more than 12 hours a day, six days a week, often for a monthly salary of about $37. They sit at sewing machines in overcrowded, dimly lit and poorly ventilated factories. There are no holidays, sick leave, or parental allowances. Children are often found working, illegally, on factory floors.
Many buildings, like the eight-storey one that collapsed, are constructed illegally. Fires and factory collapses have killed more than 1100 workers over the past decade.
“The EU calls upon the Bangladeshi authorities to act immediately to ensure that factories across the country comply with international labor standards,”.
Retailers including Gap Inc, H&M, Wal-Mart and Primark are facing mounting questions in their home markets over safety concerns for the mainly female low-paid workers in Asian countries. A meeting was held last week between international retailers and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association to discuss concerns.
Britains Primark and Canada’s Lowlab, who were reportedly supplied by the complex, have offered to compensate victims.
Oxfam Australia said it was calling on Australian retailers Big W, Cotton On, Kmart, Target, and Pacific Brands to ”immediately release” the locations of their factories in Bangladesh so that conditions for workers could be independently assessed.
On Wednesday heavy machinery began to clear concrete debris at Savar, while officials said the death toll had risen to 413 with a further 2,400 injured. Distraught relatives of an estimated 600 victims still thought missing kept vigil at the disaster site.
So far eight people have been arrested over the collapse. Those detained include the building’s main owner as well as engineers who had given an all-clear after cracks emerged before the collapse.