Bosses arrested over Bangladesh building disaster

April 27, 2013 - 10:12:41 am



A Bangladeshi Army soldier directs an excavator as volunteers and rescue workers conduct rescue operations after an eight-storey building collapsed in Savar, on the outskirts of Dhaka, yesterday.

SAVAR, Bangladesh: Police arrested two textile bosses Saturday over a Bangladeshi factory disaster as the death toll climbed to 332 and distraught relatives lashed out at rescuers trying to detect signs of life.


Around 40 people were pulled alive overnight from the ruins of the eight-storey Rana Plaza compound which caved in on Wednesday morning while thousands of garment workers were stitching clothes for Western brands.


But emergency workers warned their task was getting harder as any survivors still trapped in the rubble were now too weak to call for help.


News of the arrests of the two factory owners came after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed that those responsible for the country's deadliest industrial disaster would be hunted down and punished.


"We've arrested Bazlus Samad, the chairman of New Wave Buttons and New Wave Style factories, and Mahmudur Rahaman Tapash, a managing director of one of these plants, after midnight," Shyaml Mukherjee, the deputy chief of Dhaka police, told AFP.


Police had filed a case against them for "death due to negligence", said Mukherjee. The overall owner of the building had still to be traced, he added.


Survivors have said the building developed visible cracks on Tuesday evening, but bosses ordered staff to return to the production lines.


A total of five factories were based in the complex at Savar on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka.


Bangladesh is the world's number two manufacturer of garments and the industry is a key driver of the economy. But it has a shocking safety record, with a fire at another factory killing 111 people last November.


British low-cost fashion line Primark and Spain's Mango have acknowledged having their products made in the block, while a host of brands including Walmart and France's Carrefour are investigating.


The accident has prompted new accusations from labour activists that Western companies place profit before safety by sourcing their products from Bangladesh where textile workers typically earn less than $40 a month.


Hundreds of relatives of missing workers have massed at the disaster site to watch the rescue teams try to find their loved ones.


National fire service chief Ahmed Ali said emergency workers were having to battle exhaustion and the stench of decaying bodies which was growing stronger by the hour.


"We believe some people are still alive. But they are too weak to call for help," he told AFP.


Ali said rescue chiefs would meet with experts to decide whether to employ heavy lifting equipment to reach those still trapped in "some air pockets".


Teams of soldiers and firefighters have so far only used hand tools like cutters and drills, fearing heavier equipment could dislodge masonry.


Although the discovery of more survivors overnight gave fresh impetus to the rescue effort, there was growing anger at its pace.


"I've been here since Wednesday. We still don't know what happened to my aunt and sister-in-law," said Harunur Rashid.


"The rescue work is going on very slowly. There are too many people, yet too little work. Had they stepped up cutting of the concrete, I think they could save quite a lot of people," he said, clutching photos of his relatives.


An army spokesman said the death toll was now 332 and at least 2,412 people have been rescued alive since the collapse, with more than 1,200 injured.


With many of the country's 4,500 factories already shut due to protests, manufacturers declared Saturday a holiday and unions called a strike for Sunday to demand better working conditions.


Police fired tear-gas and rubber bullets at workers on Friday when workers blocked roads and attacked factories in textile-making districts around Dhaka.

International pressure to improve safety standards is also growing, with the United States reiterating calls for "the government, owners, buyers and labour to find ways of improving working conditions".


The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said the disaster showed "the urgent need to improve Bangladesh's protections for worker health and safety".


"Given the long record of worker deaths in (Bangladesh's) factories, this tragedy was sadly predictable," said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director. (AFP)