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Updated: Strike is Off, Dhaka Factory Toll Tops 400

Updated: May 1, 2013

A previously reported strike called by opposition forces for May 2nd has been cancelled, according to sources. The arrest of building owner Rana seems to have diffused tensions somewhat, as union leaders and activists have agreed to meet with government and trade group representatives to try and improve safety. Workers at the factories destroyed in the collapse are continuing to receive wages through the BGMEA accounts of the arrested factory owners.

Today’s protests in order of May Day are continuing, with protestors calling for the execution of factory owners. May Day is a holiday in Bangladesh, but workers are particularly inflamed this year, as a spate of disasters and rising inflation has highlighted their plight.

Updated: April 28, 2013

An eight-story building housing several garment factories and retail stores collapsed outside Dhaka on Wednesday. It’s been reported that over 400 bodies have been found, at least one thousand have been injured, and many more remain trapped in the rubble. A few dozen have been found alive in a room that survived the collapse, and rescue workers are trying to extricate them.

The owners of the factories involved are reported to have gone into hiding, as the prime minister vowed to pursue criminal prosecutions against those responsible. Labor activists searching the rubble have linked the factories to western firms including Mango, Walmart, Primark, C&A, Benneton, and Cato Fashions.

Army personnel and fire fighters worked tirelessly trying to find survivors trapped in the rubble. Television coverage showed young women workers, some with injuries, being pulled from the ruins.

According to Mohammad Asaduzzaman, head of the area’s police station, factory owners ignored a warning not to allow workers into the building after a crack was found on Tuesday. The top four floors of the building were constructed without permits, according to Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmed Khan, head of the National Fire Service.

Five garment factories were housed in the building. The chairman of one factory, Ether Tex Ltd., told Reuters that he was unaware of any warnings not to open the workshops.

“There were some crack at the second floor, but my factory was on the fifth floor,” said Muhammad Anisur Rahman. “The owner of the building told our floor manager that it is not a problem and so you can open the factory.”

The firm was sub-contracted to supply Europe’s C&A and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. In the building, New Wave Bottoms Limited was on the second floor, Phantom Apparels Ltd was on the third floor, and Phantom Tack Ltd was on the fourth floor.

This is the latest in a string of disasters for Bangladesh’s garment industry, which has been devastated by numerous safety violations despite claims of improvement. It recalls the Tazreen Fashions factory fire in November that killed 112 workers in a nearby suburb.

Wal-Mart had also subcontracted work to Tazreen without authorization and, since that fire, has engaged in a calculated effort to improve worker safety in Bangladesh.

The scene today was full of ambulances and wailing relatives, hoping for survivors. The top floors of the building had collapsed “pancaking” onto each other, according to a firefighter at the scene.

“It looks like an earthquake has struck here,” one resident told Reuters.

“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 Zohra Begum, a worker at one of the factories, to Reuters.

Weak government enforcement and cynical calculations by property owners mean buildings are sometimes erected without permission and without compliance with structural and construction regulations. A similar garment factory collapse eight years ago killed dozens.

86 people were confirmed dead as of this morning, and more than 800 are reported injured.

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