News / Asia

Bangladesh Building Disaster Spotlights Safety

A police officer shows the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building to locals in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka, April 26, 2013.
A police officer shows the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building to locals in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka, April 26, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
In the wake of a building collapse which killed some 300 workers in Bangladesh, concerns have revived whether global clothing brands are doing enough to improve dismal safety standards in the country’s most thriving industry. As the death toll continues to climb, it is being counted as among the worst industrial disasters.    
 
When an eight-story factory in a Dhaka suburb turned into a pile of rubble and twisted metal, killing and injuring hundreds of workers, the country was anguished, but not surprised.
 
Flouting of safety norms in the country’s humming garment factories has been a top concern after a devastating blaze in a factory killed more than 100 people in November.
 
In the case of the Rana Plaza building collapse Wednesday, large cracks appeared a day before the disaster. A bank and a market housed in the complex decided to close and send employees home, but several garment workshops ignored the danger.    
 
  • A man walks at the site where a garment factory building collapsed on April 24 in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 13, 2013.
  • Reshma Begum, center, the 19-year-old seamstress who spent 17 days trapped in the rubble of a collapsed factory building talks to the media at a hospital in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 13, 2013.
  • Rescuers carry a survivor pulled out from the rubble of a building that collapsed in Saver, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 10, 2013.
  • People work in the rubble of a collapsed garment factory in Savar near Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 10, 2013.
  • Rescuers carry the body of a victim from the rubble of a building that collapsed in Savar, Bangladesh, May 7, 2013.
  • A woman cries after she identified her relative's body that was recovered from the rubble of a collapsed garment factory building, Savar, Bangladesh, May 3, 2013.
  • The remaining standing part of the collapsed Rana Plaza building collapses during a rescue operation by the army in Savar, Bangladesh, May 2, 2013.
  • Relatives mourn as they look for garment workers, missing after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh, May 2, 2013.
  • Workers dig mass graves during a burial of unidentified garment workers, who died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh, May 1, 2013.
  • A boy covers his nose with a cloth as people gather in front of mass graves during the burial of unidentified garment workers, who died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh, May 1, 2013.
  • A woman waits for news of her relative, a garment worker, who is missing after the collapse of Rana Plaza building, in front of missing people posters in Savar, Bangladesh, April 30, 2013.
  • Firefighters and army personnel are blanketed in thick dust after part of the garment factory building collapses after being dislodged as part of the clearing process in Savar, near Dhaka, April 29, 2013.
  • Crowds gather at the collapsed Rana Plaza building as people rescue garment workers trapped in the rubble, Savar, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013.

Economist Mamun Rashid in Dhaka says part of the problem has been the rapid expansion of the garment industry in Bangladesh.
 
A decade ago, it was largely a home-based industry. Now businessmen are moving to wherever they can find space to meet the huge flow of orders from Western clothing retailers. In the process, says Rashid, standards have often been compromised.    
 
"This has grown in a kind of unplanned or semi planned way so fast that possibly entrepreneurs could not look at safety standard compliance on a 100 percent basis," said Rashid. "There are of course government approvals and monitoring disconnects happening. There are lack of industry inspectors or factory inspectors and issues with regard to factory standards, building standards and workers safety within the plant."
 
Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir said the building which collapsed had violated construction codes. One example: the eight story-structure only had permission for five stories. Questions are being raised as to why inspectors did not notice this earlier and shut it down, especially after cracks appeared.
 
Global retailers responsability

Labor activist groups in Bangladesh and abroad say global retailers must share the burden of improving unsafe conditions in their suppliers. Labor groups have been lobbying for two years with Western companies to sign onto an agreement that would involve independent inspections, structural upgrades and fire safety systems in the country’s garment factories.
 
Only two companies (PVH, the parent company of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and Tchibo, a German retailer), have endorsed it so far, but they also want other companies to come on board first.  
 
A spokesman for Europe based Clean Clothes Campaign, Ineke Zeldenrust, says their warnings to Western retailers have gone unheeded.  
 
"What we see the corporations doing is all now starting to pay lip service to this unrest by proposing maybe cosmetic changes where they will add a bit of worker training, they will maybe do a little bit of improved audit, but they are not willing to make the fundamental changes in their sources practices and in the way they do their business," said Zeldenrust. "We really believe that after what has happened now, how can they close their eyes? It is very important that buyers commit to paying the kind of prices that will enable repairs to be made."
 
Need to improve infrastructure

Analysts admit that the cutthroat garment industry competition that has made Bangladesh the world’s second biggest supplier for global clothing chains means margins are thin. That can leave factory owners with little capital to invest in improving infrastructure.
 
Shafiul Mohiudeen Islam is the former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Association. The lobbying group for the industry had warned the owners of the collapsed factory not to operate, but apparently no one enforced the warning.
 
He says that although improving safety conditions is a priority, it can be difficult because of the enormous economic pressure on small and medium sized garment businesses.      
 
"Here everything is cost, everything is cost," said Islam. "You dont have choice. It is the buyers market. End of the day all the superstores and retail chains they are dominating the price. Price is not dominated by manufacturers.”
 
Unsafe conditions in the $20 billion industry are not the only concern. Wages as low as $37 a month for four million workers have also triggered unrest in an industry growing so quickly that some believe it could eventually overtake world-leader China.        
 
 




You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Andres from: Colombia
April 26, 2013 9:52 AM
Okay that globalization person allowed access to the working lives of emerging and poor countries, but this does not work degradation in subhuman conditions that threaten their safety in all aspects.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid