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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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 Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

John the XXIII and John Paul II will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square on April 27 More

Thailand Reacts to Plots Targeting Israelis

Authorities hope arrest of two Lebanese suspects will disrupt plot to attack young Israeli tourists More

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

'Once Upon a Forest' takes viewers deep into heart of tropical rainforest 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.
Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Churchi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 22, 2014 4:14 PM
On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Robotic Mission Kicks Up Lunar Dust

A robotic mission to the moon was deliberately crashed onto the lunar surface late last week, but not before scientists had collected data gathered by the spacecraft which was designed to self-destruct. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports on the preliminary findings of the craft, called LADEE - an acronym for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer.
Video

Video Boko Haram Claims Responsibility for Bombing in Nigerian Capital

The Nigerian militant group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a bombing in the capital on April 14th that killed 75 people. In the video message, Abubakar Shekau, the man who says he ordered the bombing, says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls, most of whom are still missing. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Abuja.
Video

Video Ukraine Developments Hang Over Obama Trip to Asia

President Barack Obama's trip to Asia this week comes as concerns over Beijing's territorial ambitions are growing in the region. Those concerns have been compounded by Russia's recent actions in Ukraine and the possibility that Chinese strategists might be looking to Crimea as a model for its territorial disputes with its neighbors. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid