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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers 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.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More