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Bangladesh Factories Death Toll Passes 500

The death toll in the collapse of an eight-story factory complex in Bangladesh has risen to 501 people.

Officials released the new figure Friday after workers pulled more bodies from the wreckage overnight.

On Thursday, the nation's textile industry reopened, a week after a work shutdown prompted by the building collapse near Dhaka.

The mayor of Savar, the site of the April 24 collapse, was suspended from office Thursday as garment workers returned to their jobs. Local officials say charges will be brought against Mohammad Refat Ullah in connection with the country's largest industrial disaster.

Authorities had already arrested eight people people, including the building's owner, owners of the garment factories housed in the building and building engineers.

Meanwhile, rescue workers are continuing to use heavy equipment to clear the site. Officials expect the number of victims to rise as 150 people remain unaccounted for. More than 3,000 people were in the building when it collapsed.

On Wednesday, thousands of people gathered in Dhaka for a May Day demonstration to demand safety at work and the death penalty for the building's owner.

Separately, Vatican Radio reported Pope Francis said at a private Mass that he was shocked when he read the Bangladeshi garment workers were living on $50 a month. Francis, the leader of the world's more than one billion Roman Catholics, described the workers' salary as "slave labor."

Oxfam also urged Western companies that received textile goods from factories housed in the building to follow their colleagues who are offering compensation to the victims' families.

Britain's Primark and Canada's Loblaw have promised to provide assistance to the survivors and families who lost loved ones in the building collapse.

Several international organizations have been circulating a contract to companies involved in the garment trade in Bangladesh, calling on brand owners and retailers to work together to insure that factories comply with safety standards. It also urges them to adjust their pricing and sourcing practices to make that sort of cooperation feasible.

Judy Gearhart with the International Labor Rights Forum is one of the sponsors of the contract. She tells VOA that a coordinated effort is needed to fix the situation. She says that unfortunately, the way brands have approached their factory monitoring to date has not encouraged the factories to be up front about problems they might be experiencing over the fear that they will not secure future orders.

Bangladesh's $20 billion textile industry is the mainstay of the impoverished nation's economy.

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