* Owners ignored crack spotted on Tuesday, say police
* Fireman says 2,000 in building when it crumbled
* Bangladesh's cheap labor benefits global garment trade
By Serajul Quadir and Ruma Paul
DHAKA, April 24 An eight-story building that
housed garment factories and shops collapsed in Bangladesh on
Wednesday, killing nearly 100 people and injuring more than a
thousand, officials said.
One fireman told Reuters about 2,000 people were in the Rana
Plaza building in Savar, 30 km (20 miles) outside Dhaka, when
its upper floors slammed onto those below. An official at a
control room set up to provide information said 96 people were
confirmed dead and more than 1,000 injured. The Daily Star, a
leading Bangladeshi newspaper, put that number at 106.
At the site of the collapsed Rana Plaza building, a frantic
effort was underway to find and rescue victims. Television
reports showed young women workers, some apparently
semi-conscious, being pulled out by firefighters and troops.
Doctors at local hospitals said they were unable to cope
with the number of victims brought in.
The building collapse, which follows a November fire at the
Tazreen Fashion factory on the outskirts of Dhaka that killed
112 people, has compounded concerns about worker safety and low
wages in Bangladesh.
The two major incidents, and a third in January that killed
seven people, could taint Bangladesh's reputation as a source of
low-cost products and services and call attention to Western
retailers and other companies that obtain products from the
country. But industry people and worker's groups in the United
States say the lure of cheap manufacturing costs will keep
retailers and buyers turning to Bangladesh.
Edward Hertzman, a sourcing agent based in New York who also
publishes the trade magazine Sourcing Journal says pressure from
U.S. retailers to keep a lid on costs continues to foster unsafe
conditions. Hertzaman's clients include clothing manufacturers
and retailers like PacSun, Oxford Industries
Following the Tazreen fire, giant U.S. retailer Wal-Mart
Stores Inc. said it would take measures to alleviate
safety concerns, while Gap Inc. announced a four-step
"It is going to take much more than retailers issuing press
releases or paying compensation to victims," Hertzman said.
"They're going to have to stop beating up the factories and
start paying higher prices."
Entry level wages in these factories start at 14 cents an
hour, said Charles Kernaghan, with the The Institute for Global
Labour and Human Rights. The non-profit works with factory
workers in Bangladesh and other parts of the world to help
better working standards.
"The companies will stay in Bangladesh despite all the
problems...In China, a comparable wage would be at least $1 an
hour," Kernaghan said.
Hertzman, whose trade publication has offices in Bangladesh,
said New Wave Bottoms Limited occupied the second floor,
Phantom Apparels Ltd on the third floor, Phantom Tack Ltd on the
fourth floor and Ethar Textile Ltd on the fifth.
U.S. children's clothing retailer Children's Place
said that while New Wave had manufactured clothes for the
company in the past, it hadn't at the time of the accident.
The New Wave website listed 27 main buyers, including firms
from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Canada
and the United States.
CRACKS IN BUILDING
"I was at work on the third floor, and then suddenly I heard
a deafening sound, but couldn't understand what was happening. I
ran and was hit by something on my head," said factory worker
Mohammad Asaduzzaman, who was in charge of the area's police
station, said factory owners appeared to have ignored a warning
not to allow their workers into the building after a crack was
detected in the block on Tuesday. Kernaghan, of the The
Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights said the owner
"sweet talked them into working, and assured them there was no
Bangladesh, which employs about 3.6 million people in the
garment industry, is the second-largest apparel exporting
country in the world. But it has also gained a reputation for
political red tape, worker strikes and poor working standards in
its many garment factories, where factory owners have been
accused by non-profits and unions of exploiting workers.
Annisul Huq, former president of the Bangladesh Garment
Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Reuters that the
BGMEA noticed the cracks on the Rana Plaza Tuesday and asked the
owner to take corrective steps.
"The owner should not have used the factory while the cracks
had developed, but it was a day of 'hartal' yesterday and he
probably got no engineers to look at it," Huq said.
Hartals, or strikes, have been a persistent problem in the
country, creating uncertainties in the supply chain and
bottlenecks for business operations.
In March, The American Federation Of Labor & Congress Of
Industrial Organizations filed a petition before the United
States Trade Representative to remove Bangladesh from the list
of eligible beneficiary developing countries. "The government of
Bangladesh continues to fail to take steps to afford
internationally recognized worker rights," the AFL-CIO said.
GHOSTS OF TAZREEN
In November, the Tazreen accident raised questions about how
much control Western brands have over their supply chains for
clothes sourced from Bangladesh.
A Wal-Mart supplier had subcontracted work to the Tazreen
factory without authorisation. Since then, Wal-Mart has said it
is trying to get a better handle on its supply chain and to
monitor safety at factories that produce its goods.
The Bangladeshi government subsequently confirmed workers'
complaints about unsafe conditions, and also said the factory
owner and supervisors prevented staff from leaving the premises
after a fire alarm sounded.
Wal-Mart said Wednesday it still could not determine whether
a factory in the building that collapsed was producing goods for
Hertzman, the textiles broker, said the Tazreen fire has
prompted his clients to pressure agents in the factories to be
more accountable for safety.
"I've had two clients in the past two months who have said
they need to go and inspect the factories in Bangladesh before
placing orders for private label goods made for major usa
retailers," said Hertzman.
He did not want to name the clients, but said one of them
supplies apparel to Costco and the other supplies young
men's clothes for retailers like Ross Stores, Sears
"Bangladesh is the longest lead-time country and a difficult
country to work in, so the only way it becomes competitive is by
offering the lowest (cost). That's the Catch-22," he said.
"If the factories want to raise prices to make up for rising
wages and costs, the buyers say, 'Oh why do we want to go to
Bangladesh if I could go to China, Vietnam, Latin America etc
for a similar price?"