Rana Plaza Collapse at Savar: An Approach to Find Out Root Causes


Maruf Mahfuz
Email: maruf.txt@gmail.com
Department of Textile engineering
World University of Bangladesh


In Bangladesh businesses are growing at an ever fast rate. New businesses are opening every day in every possible sector. Taking purchasing power parity into account Bangladesh is the 44th largest economy in the world. Bangladesh is also listed in the N-11 (next 11) by the Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. Among all the industries, at present textiles and readymade garments industry are the top ones. Recently WTO has ranked Bangladesh as the 4th largest exporter of readymade garments‟ in the world. This sector contributes for 75% of foreign currency earning for Bangladesh. Textiles and Readymade Garments‟ sector contributes 13% of GDP and employs more than 3,000,000 people. It has bought benefit and blessings for millions of people in the country. This industry has played a significant role in elevating economic and living standard of millions of families all over the country. Along with bringing blessing for the nation, textile and RMG industry also hold the record of experiencing some worst industrial accidents in the country. Taking advantage of poor surveillance of concerned authorities‟ rules, laws and codes are often violated in construction sector of our country and factory buildings are no exception. It is popularly believed and often proven true by incidences that the building codes are only maintained in paper works and hardly during the construction phase. Later as the owner focuses on the interior works, machine placement etc. the floors are often over loaded with machineries, causing more population load during operational hours, narrowing circulation spaces, thus making it difficult for the people to access the emergency route during an emergency. Many factories do not arrange regular drill; therefore the workers discover themselves in an alien situation whenever an emergency situation arises, causing panic, stampede etc. that further escalate the degree of casualty.

Bangladesh is notorious for wide-scale neglect of safety issues, and it is becoming a matter of worldwide concern that factory owners, in collusion with the Western clothing companies that they supply, are prepared to cut corners and abuse their workers until something gives way.

On 24 April 2013, an eight-story commercial building, Rana Plaza, collapsed in Savar, a sub-district in the Greater Dhaka Area, the capital of Bangladesh. At least 1,126 people were killed, and about 2,500 people injured. As of 12 May, many people were still missing. The official number of missing was 149 though unofficial estimates are higher. At least 2,500 people were rescued from the building alive.

24 April 2013
08:45 am BST (UTC+06:00)
Savar Upazila,
Dhaka District, Bangladesh

at least 1,126
about 2,500

It is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest structural failure in modern human history (excluding the collapse of the World Trade Center, which was the aftermath of a .

The building contained clothing factories, a bank, apartments, and several other shops. The shops and the bank on the lower floors immediately closed after cracks were discovered in the building. Warnings to avoid using the building after cracks appeared the day before had been ignored. Garment workers were ordered to return the following day and the building collapsed during the morning rush-hour.
Figure: Rana plaza before collapsed
The building, Rana Plaza, was owned by Sohel Rana, leader of the local Jubo League, the youth wing of the ruling Awami League. It housed a number of separate garment factories employing around 5,000 people, several shops, and a bank. The factories manufactured apparel for brands including the Benetton Group, Bonmarché, Cato, DressBarn, Joe Fresh, Mango, Matalan, Monsoon, Primark, and The Children's Place. Walmart claims that they had no authorised production in the building, although one of the Rana Plaza factories, Ether Tex, listed Wal-Mart as a customer. Bangladeshi news media reported that inspectors had discovered cracks in the building the day before and had requested evacuation and closure. The shops and the bank on the lower floors immediately closed, but garment workers were forced to return the following day, their supervisors declaring the building to be safe. Managers at Ether Tex threatened to withhold a month's pay from workers who refused to come to work.
 Fig: The location of Savar (red marker)
Human Rights Watch stated their concern over the number of factory-building tragedies in Bangladesh; there have been numerous major accidents in the country in the past decade, including the 2012 Dhaka fire.
The building collapsed at about 9 am, leaving only the ground floor intact. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president confirmed that 3,122 workers were in the building at the time of the collapse. One local resident described the scene as if "an earthquake had struck."
Fig: Side view of the collapsed building
Within hours of the collapse, the United Nations offered to send expert rescue teams with dogs, micro-cameras and other equipment to the site, but this offer was rejected by Dhaka authorities.

One of the garment manufacturers' websites indicates that more than half of the victims were women, along with a number of their children who were in nursery facilities within the building. Bangladeshi Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir confirmed that army, fire service personnel, police and Rapid Action Battalion troops were assisting with the rescue effort. Volunteer rescue workers used bolts of fabric to assist survivors to escape from the building. A national day of mourning was held on 25 April. On 8 May an army spokesman, Mir Rabbi, said the army's attempt to recover more bodies from the rubble would continue for at least another week. On 10 May, 17 days after the collapse, a woman named Reshma was found and rescued alive and almost unhurt under the rubble.
On 25 April 2013, the Dhaka city development authority filed a case against the owners of the building, and five of the garment factories contained within it. On the same day, dozens of survivors were discovered in the remains of the building.
Fig: Rescuers carrying out one of the survivors from the collapsed building
Although at first Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had denied the membership of Rana's in Jubo League, after intense criticism of her speech she had to order the arrest of Sohel Rana and four of the owners of the garment factories operating in the building. Sohel Rana was alleged to be in hiding. Authorities reported that four had already been arrested in connection with the collapse.

On 26 and 27 April, garment workers across industrial areas of Dhaka, Chittagong and Gazipur rioted, targeting vehicles, commercial buildings and garment factories.

On 27 April, leftist political parties and BNP-led 18 Party Alliance demanded the arrest and trial of suspects and an independent commission to identify vulnerable factories.

On 28 April, the owner of the Rana Plaza, Sohel Rana, was arrested at Benapole, on the Indo-Bangladeshi border, in Jessore District by security forces. On the same day a fire broke out at the disaster site and authorities were forced to suspend temporarily the search for survivors.

Protesting workers paraded through central Dhaka by the thousands on International Workers' Day to demand safer working conditions and the death penalty for the owner of Rana Plaza.

On 7 May, hundreds of survivors of Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster blocked a main highway to demand wages, as the death toll from the collapse of a nine-story building passed 700. Local government officials said they had been in talks with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association for the workers to be paid their outstanding April salaries plus a further three months – £97. The surviving workers abandoned their protest on 7 May after officials promised they would soon be paid. They are currently compiling lists of surviving employees to establish who must be paid and compensated. On 8 May, 18 garment plants, including 16 in Dhaka and two in Chittagong, were closed down. Textile minister, Abdul Latif Siddique, told reporters that more plants would be shut as part of strict new measures to ensure safety. By 10 May the death toll was over 1,000.

Protests erupted in Dhaka following this latest tragedy, and the spotlight has quite rightly turned to the issue of how conditions and safety can be improved in the country, even as work continues at the disaster site.

The clothing and garment industry are incredibly important for Bangladesh’s economy. Nearly 80 percent of the country’s export earnings come from the US$20 billion industry. Although the Pope recently expressed shock that wages can be as low as US$50 a month, a level he compares to “slave labor,” the industry has helped millions of impoverished people achieve better lives, especially women from rural areas. This latter fact helps to explain why the vast majority of those involved in the tragedy were women. With approximately 60 percent of Bangladesh’s clothing exports heading to European Union (EU) nations, and a significant amount of the remainder to the U.S., the elevated levels of consumer awareness found in these markets has almost guaranteed a strong reaction.

In the wake of the disaster, there has been a worldwide media and consumer reaction on Bangladesh’s working and safety conditions, with some companies taking a lead in acting or planning action on the issue. The disturbing news images and reports from Dhaka have created an emotionally charged atmosphere in discussions, with some groups and individuals and trade blocs even suggesting a boycott of Bangladeshi suppliers.

It is not just the EU considering drastic action. Since the disaster, it has emerged that the U.S. was already considering revoking the country’s “preferred trade status” due to concerns about treatment of workers in Bangladeshi factories. Disney has already taken action against the South Asian nation, and others who have not acted now face much more media and public scrutiny.

It is almost certain that a full boycott of Bangladeshi garment factories by foreign (mostly Western) retailers and brands would create a much bigger human tragedy than even the disturbing fires, collapses and inexcusably low wages seen in the country. The threat of a boycott, however, could be very useful in forcing improvements to local conditions, and for such threats to be taken seriously; the exit of a few big names such as Disney may well prove to be necessary.

What is clearly really needed is for downstream companies and retailers to put much greater pressure on their upstream suppliers in the Bangladesh. Even if this also requires consumers paying an extra premium on the clothing they buy – not more than 10 cents per garment, according to analysis by the Workers’ Rights Consortium, it is hardly a difficult decision to make.

The process of improving Bangladesh’s working conditions will now almost certainly get underway. Although it is tragic that it took such disasters as the Rana Plaza collapse and last November’s fatal fire to prompt action, at least now various charities, trade groups, corporations and international organizations have the ammunition they need to force through changes that will benefit the lives of millions of Bangladeshis. Concerted, coordinated action must follow.

Abandoning the country altogether would be the worst possible solution. Hence global media and smart interest groups must play an important role by refusing to demonize firms that stay committed to Bangladesh, as long as those firms are working effectively to improve conditions for its people.

  • Officials say the owner of Rana Plaza illegally added three floors and allowed the garment factories to install heavy machines and generators, even though the structure was not designed to support such equipment. The owner and eight other people, including the owners of the garment factories, have been detained. 
  • Rana Plaza's architect, Massood Reza, said the building was planned for shops and offices – but not factories. Other architects stressed the risks involved in placing factories inside a building designed only for shops and offices, noting the structure were potentially not strong enough to bear the weight and vibration of heavy machinery.
  • Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government Abu Alam Md. Shaheed Khan said the Savar municipality didn’t follow the rules and regulations properly in approving the design and lay-out plan of the collapsed Rana Plaza. The plaza housed five garment factories, a branch of a commercial bank and 300 shops. 
  • The head of the Bangladesh Fire Service & Civil Defense, Ali Ahmed Khan, said that the upper four floors had been built without a permit. He made the disclosure to the journalists while describing various sides of investigation committee report formed by Local Government Ministry on Savar building collapse. 
  • The tragedy appears more painful when it is realized that a forewarning had been given the previous day when cracks in the building were detected. An engineer had warned of the impending collapses and asked for a safety check by some structural engineer from BUET but the owner of the building trivialized the warning and adopted no precautionary measure. What is apparently further incriminating is that on Wednesday morning before the collapse the garment workers were hesitating to enter the building but the factory owners forced them to go in and work unconcerned about the risk. Workers have even alleged that owners wielded sticks to force them to enter the building.
  • Officials have blamed the collapse on shoddy construction methods. The upper four floors of the plaza, for example, were reportedly constructed illegally without permits, and a crack was seen on the building exterior a day before the collapse.
Uneven Footing
The exact cause of the collapse has not yet been determined, but Henri Gavin, a civil and environmental engineer at Duke University, speculated that the building's foundation was substandard. "It could be that one edge of the building was on much softer soil than the other, so that part of the building settled down a little bit more," Gavin explained. "That could easily lead to an instability that would precipitate a collapse."

Another possibility is that weight on the top factory floors—where the crack was spotted—was unevenly distributed.

"If this building had very large open spaces the way a lot of factories do, and if the floors had long spans without lots of [reinforcing] columns ... then the building could start to lift one way or the other" if heavy equipment was not spaced evenly throughout the floors, Gavin said.

When designing a building, engineers are supposed to consider different combinations of how loads are placed in the structure. "The intention is to require the engineer to consider as many cases as possible," Gavin said.

Such modeling is easy to do—if one has the right computer and software. In developing countries such as Bangladesh, however, calculating different load distributions can be a time-consuming process, and as a result might be skipped.

Construction Problems
Poor building design is only one part of the problem, however. The best building design in the world is for naught if a construction firm doesn't follow the plans precisely.

Abu Alam Md. Shaheed Khan said the Savar municipality didn’t follow the rules and regulations properly in approving the design and lay-out plan of the collapsed Rana Plaza.49

He made the disclosure to the journalists while describing various sides of investigation committee report formed by Local Government Ministry on Savar building collapse.

The report says the authorities concerned and mayor approved 10-storied building instead of 6-sroried violating the main design of the plaza.

Earlier, on April 25, an investigation committee was formed to investigate whether rules and regulation in the building lay out, design were followed or not with Local Government Joint-Secretary Md. Akhter Hossain in the convener.

Vibration triggered Rana Plaza collapse
That may have been the case with Ranza Plaza, which appears to have been built largely out of concrete. (Learn about mega structures on the National Geographic Channel.)

Concrete buildings require large amounts of reinforcing steel, called rebar, to prevent excessive cracking. Depending on the country, steel can be costly.

"In developing countries, steel is relatively expensive in comparison to the labor and concrete," said Dan Jansen, a civil engineer at California Polytechnic State University. "In the U.S., steel is not that huge a factor. It's easy to add more steel to make [the building] more ductile and stronger, and so we do it here." But in developing countries, less steel is often used than is recommended because of the cost. "Reducing or changing the reinforcing steel without the building official's approval is never acceptable whether you're in a developing country or the U.S.," Jansen said.

From looking at photos of the collapse, Jansen said he suspects not enough rebar was used in the building's construction.

"The way it collapsed, and the fact that so much of it came down, suggests there was a lack of redundancy," he said. "The amount of reinforcing steel used didn't allow it to transfer the load from one section to another, and that's why so much of it came down."

In addition to possibly being under-reinforced, the concrete mix may not have had enough cement, said Gavin of Duke University.

"Many of the casualties from the 1999 Kocaeli earthquake in Turkey were in medium-rise concrete apartment buildings," he added.

"Investigations following this earthquake revealed that the concrete had more sand and less cement than required by typical design standards." Govt probe says.

A government enquiry has found use of substandard materials during the construction and heavy machinery in the five garment factories that it housed mainly triggered the collapse of Rana Plaza, reports bdnews24.com.

The committee formed by the Ministry of Home Affairs came up with its findings on Thursday.

The head of the investigation panel Main Uddin told bdnews24.com that apart from the heavy machinery used by garment units, the vibration of the high-capacity generators set up on the top floor of the building also contributed to the collapse.

"The vibration of the generators jerked the building. This is one of the reasons for the building collapse." Khandaker, an Additional Secretary, said the generators were in operation when the huge structure came crushing down suddenly in the morning of Apr 23 in Savar.

Khandaker said the generator sets used by the factories were turned on after a power cut in the building around 8:30 am and that created a huge tremor, which led to the collapse.

BSS adds: An enquiry committee of the government has found that heavy machinery and high-capacity generators set up at garment units are largely responsible for Savar building collapse.

"During the enquiry, we have found that use of substandard materials during the construction also contributed to the building collapse," head of the committee Main Uddin Khandaker told BSS today.

He, additional secretary of the ministry of home affairs, said, "The investigation is underway and we would be able to submit a complete report within schedule time, if rescue operation is completed"

The committee has been asked to submit report within seven working days, he said adding "We have already passed five working days and we are hoping to complete the investigation within next two working days.

Rana Plaza architect says building was never meant for factories
The architect of the eight storied building that collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Massood Reza, the architect who drew up the plan for Rana Plaza in 2004, said he was "asked to design a commercial shopping mall" with "three or four storeys for a market and then the upper two storeys were for offices"also has spoken out for the first time, telling The Daily Telegraph it was planned for shops and offices – but not factories.

He said: "We did not design it for industrial use. At that time the garment belt was not there. There was no demand for industrial buildings. If I had known that it was to be an industrial building, as per the rules I would have taken other measures for the building."
Fig: The original plan for Rana Plaza describes the building's purpose as 'com' for 'commercial', not industrial Photo: AFP
Four factories were installed at Rana Plaza regardless – one of which supplied Primark and Bonmarche, the British clothing retailers – and two unplanned storeys were also added, helping to precipitate its collapse.

Other architects stressed the risks involved in placing factories inside a building designed only for shops and offices. The structure may not be strong enough to bear the weight and vibration of heavy machinery.

The government's official investigation on Friday suggested that generators placed on the roof to power the factories – along with the vibration of sewing machines used to make garments – all combined to trigger the building's collapse.

"Change of occupancy is a very dangerous thing," said Mobasshar Hossain, the president of the Bangladesh Institute of Architects. "Your residence is designed for residential purposes, but suddenly you change the occupancy for factories. You can do it, but you then have to strengthen the building so it can take the load of industrial machinery, vibration and the movement of a good number of human beings."

The original plan for Rana Plaza, seen by The Daily Telegraph, duly describes the building's purpose as "com" for "commercial", not industrial.

Primark has declined to say what it knew about Rana Plaza before the disaster. Bonmarche has insisted that it was unaware of any reason to doubt the building's safety.

The Walt Disney Company has announced that it will stop placing supply contracts in Bangladesh and Pakistan because of the safety record of both countries, although this decision predated the latest disaster.

Nonetheless, as the death toll from the worst industrial disaster in Bangladeshi history reached 507 on Friday, the government sought to play the tragedy down.

"I don't think it is really serious – it's an accident," said Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, the finance minister, adding: "The steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn't happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all."

A Fatal Crack
Whether it was the rebar or the cement that was insufficient, a crack was indeed spotted on Rana Plaza's seventh floor by workers on Tuesday, a day before it collapsed. Upon hearing the news, managers at the factories supposedly told workers not to report to work on Wednesday, but later reversed the order, according to CNN.

But a crack in a concrete building by itself is not necessarily a cause for alarm, said Ben Fischetti, a senior engineer at the California-based engineering firm Penfield & Smith.

"There's a saying: There are two kinds of concrete, there's cracked concrete and concrete that hasn't cracked yet," Fischetti said. "Concrete cracks ... but generally cracks are not a cause for concern unless you can see it moving over time or it seems to be excessive."

In the U.S., building codes set a minimum standard for the use of rebar in the construction of concrete buildings as a means of creating structural redundancy and controlling failure mechanisms.

"The number one thing that structural engineers in the U.S. are trying to avoid is sudden, catastrophic failure. We design structures to fail, but they must fail in a controlled manner," Fischetti said.

"Concrete structures that include an adequate amount of rebar are more likely to yield in a ductile behavior, rather than folding like a deck of cards."

If Ranza Plaza lacked redundancy because it was built with insufficient rebar, then the building would have been a disaster waiting to happen. "When concrete without reinforcing steel cracks, you better run," Fischetti said.

If the crack was big enough, it could have been enough to precipitate the overall collapse of the building, experts say.

"It could be that the top floor fell on the floor beneath," Gavin said, "and that impact was too strong for the lower story to withstand, and the entire structure collapsed."

From photos of the scene, it also appears as if sections of the plaza were still under construction when the disaster happened. Some floors lacked walls, for example, and exposed columns with protruding rebar are visible on the upper levels.

"It looks like the building was partially built and used," Jansen said. "Occupying a building under construction is just a recipe for disaster."

The miraculous survivor female garment worker is identifies as Reshma Begum hailed from Dinajpur district. Rescuers pulled her alive from the rubble at about 4:26pm. She was taken to Savar Combined Military Hospital and kept at Intensive Care Unit. Her condition is stable and quite fine. She had already talked to her mother after her miraculous rescue by Bangladesh Army troops from under ruins of Rana Plaza.
Fig: A female garment worker was miraculously rescued alive from under tones of Rana Plaza rubbles on Friday afternoon, 17 days after the disastrous building collapse at Savar.
"The woman signaled us hitting an iron rod on the rubble as we approached the basement (of the ruined structure) . we eventually retrieved her safely," a fire service official told newsmen at the collapse site. Before her rescue, hundreds of people, who had been engaged in the removing decomposing bodies from the site, raised their hands together to pray to Allah for the woman’s safe rescue without any accident or blunder. A man on a loudspeaker led the prayers saying: "Allah, you are the greatest, you can do anything. Please allow us all to rescue the survivor just found. We seek apology for our sins. Please pardon us, pardon the person found alive."

The fire service personnel said the garment worker girl later talked to the rescuers identifying her only as Reshma as she was found alive at the far end of the salvage campaign to retrieve the bodies alone. Reshma was found alive and unhurt on the basement of the eight-storey building only to prove that if Allah protects, none can eliminate and in any circumstances his great creation human being can survive in any adverse situation even beyond imagination of medical science and people. Reshma was given dry food and drinking water after the rescuers spotted her groaning on the basement at about 3:15pm. Reshma Begum was in such good shape she was able to walk, according to one rescuer. She said she survived on dried food and bottled water.

She was discovered near a Muslim prayer room in the basement of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, where crews have been focused on recovering bodies, not rescuing survivors, since late April.

"I heard voices of the rescue workers for the past several days. I kept hitting the wreckage with sticks and rods just to attract their attention," she told the private Somoy TV from her hospital bed as doctors and nurses milled about, giving her saline and checking her condition.

"No one heard me. It was so bad for me. I never dreamed I'd see the daylight again," she said.

"There was some dried food around me. I ate the dried food for 15 days. The last two days I had nothing but water. I used to drink only a limited quantity of water to save it. I had some bottles of water around me," she said.

She finally got the crews' attention when she took a steel pipe and began banging it, said Abdur Razzak, a warrant officer with the military's engineering department who first spotted her in the wreckage. The workers ran into the dark rubble, eventually getting flashlights, to free her, he said.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the Savar Rana Plaza collapse crossed 1000 mark on Friday as rescuers retrieved 61 more decomposed bodies from the site since Thursday midnight.

"The death toll stands at 1043 at 12:15 pm as the salvage campaign entered into the 17th consecutive day," Lieutenant Imran Khan, an official of the makeshift army control room told journalists on Friday.

"Sixty one more bodies were recovered from the tonnes of debris since 1.00 am to 12.15pm," he said, adding that few more days will be required to complete the salvage operation.

Of the dead, 717 bodies were handed over to their relatives while 86 corpses have been kept at the nearby Adharchandra High School ground for identification by relatives, he informed.

If the relatives fail to identify the bodies, those will be sent to Dhaka Medical College Hospital for DNA test ahead of their burial as unidentified dead.

Nur Amin, duty officer of Anjuman Mofidul Islam told journalists on Friday that they have buried 156 unclaimed bodies at the capital's Jurain Graveyard till Friday morning.

Officials said 2,443 survivors were rescued alive with the last being on the sixth day of the collapse but 13 of them succumbed to their fatal wounds so far as they were being treated at different hospitals. But many still crowded the high school field to find their missing family members though it appeared almost impossible to detect the dead by their decomposed face.

People in the neighborhood were passing through adjacent area to Dhaka-Aricha highway covering their noses against corpses' odor as heavy cranes and bulldozers were removing the debris. Officials initially believed survivors would last under tons of concrete ruins for as high as 72 hours after the collapse but the last survivor was rescued on the sixth day that marked the end of the manual approach of the campaign prompting army engineers to bring in heavy equipment to launch the second phase.

But deaths of two ordinary volunteers, which were not listed in the toll, aggravated the tragedy as they voluntarily joined the trained fire brigade rescuers and army troops in rescuing the survivors.

Owner of the building Sohel Rana was arrested from western Jessore frontiers as he tried to escape justice fleeting to India while police also put behind the bar owners and senior management officials of the five garments factories housed in the structure for forcing workers to join the production line despite cracks were reported in the building.

Three engineers also were arrested while two of them issued safety clearance of the building and the other was a construction consultant of the building owner.

The rescue operation at the collapsed building ‘Rana Plaza’ at Savar, on the outskirts of the capital was over on Monday evening as there were no more bodies inside the building.
Photo: Maj Gen Chowdhury Hasan Sarwardy
Major General Chowdhury Hasan Sarwardy, commanding officer of the ninth infantry division of Bangladesh Army declared the conclusion of the rescue operation of the collapsed building at a press briefing at Savar on Monday.

Hasan Sarwardy said, “There is no possibility of finding bodies inside the wreckage and that is why we have ended the rescue operation.”

He also said the whole matter of the collapsed building would be handed over to the Dhaka district administration Tuesday in the early morning.

The GOC further said that a total of 1115 bodies were retrieved, 2438 rescued alive including 1744 injured from the rubble of Rana Plaza till May 13.

However, a total of 12 workers died after they were rescued alive with injures. Of the bodies, a total of 834 were handed over to the concerned family members and 234 bodies had been buried in grave yards while 59 bodies have kept in different morgues, added the GOC.

The GOC said the rescue operation was conducted in two phases. First phase was in manual process and the second one conducted using heavy equipment’s to find out anyone alive or dead. In the first phase, 381 bodies were recovered whereas 734 bodies recovered in the final phase.

According to DC office, a total of 98 people were missing till the final phase of the rescue operation. On the other hand, BGMEA will open an information Centre at Savar upazila information office for collecting information of the missing people.

The probe committee formed by the Home Ministry to investigate the causes of Rana Plaza collapse submitted its 400 page report describing the incident as a ‘culpable homicide’ to the ministry’s senior secretary on Wednesday.

The report includes five causes of the building collapsed incident, seven observations and opinions, 12 long-term-recommendations and three immediate recommendations which needs to be addressed within shortest possible time.

The committee chief and additional secretary of home ministry Mainuddin Khandokar has disclosed the brief of the report to the reporters.

Mainuddin Khandaker said the committee found five reasons for the collapse: using low quality construction materials, use of black money in the illegal construction and approval process, building codes not being followed, establishing garments factory on top of a market complex and the building was loaded with vibrant machineries & the garment workers were forced to enter the hazardous structure.Terming the incident as a culpable homicide, the committee recommended taking action against the owner & management officials of the buildings and the five factory owners on the ground of section 304 of the Bangladesh penal code.

Those who helped them should be prosecuted under section 304 and section 34, the committee suggested in the report.

Bangladesh’s $20-billion apparel industry has been the only force of economic dynamism in a destitute country. But people’s lives have been put at risk in the 5,000 or so garment factories that have sprung up as the industry tripled in size from 2000 to 2010.
Fig: Rescuers carry a body retrieved from the rubble of the eight-story Rana Plaza building that collapsed in Savar, near Dhaka, Thursday, May 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Ismail Ferdous)
Pakhi Begum is one of the lucky ones. She did not die in the collapse of the decrepit Rana Plaza building in Savar on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on April 24, one of the worst tragedies in industrial history. Rescuers heard Begum’s cries of help and pulled her from the rubble in the first few days after the collapse. But in extricating Begum, they had to amputate her legs.

The death toll from Rana Plaza has climbed to more than 1,100 lives lost, in the failure of a building constructed shoddily and illegally by an owner with connections at city hall. (He has been arrested but not charged.) By contrast, the milestone Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911 – to which can be traced many of today’s social-welfare reforms – claimed 147 lives.

Six years ago, Begum and her husband, Jahangir Fakir, escaped the deprivation of rural Khulna district, each taking jobs in Dhaka’s booming apparel plants. Sweatshops they may have been: As related by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Ether Textiles, Begum’s employer and one of several apparel factories in Rana Plaza, was known for its 14-hour shifts; a single, unsafe stairwell; and overflowing toilets. But it was a big step up from the poverty of Khulna.

Days after Rana Plaza disaster, Galen G. Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw Cos. Ltd., vowed that Loblaw unit Joe Fresh, which was supplied by a sweatshop in Rana Plaza, will continue to source in Bangladesh. The apparel industry, Weston told a press conference “can help lift people out of poverty in countries like Bangladesh.” Walt Disney Co., acutely concerned for its image, said in March it will abandon Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s $20-billion apparel industry has been the only force of economic dynamism in this destitute country, providing work for about 4 million people. But those people’s lives have been put at risk in the 5,000 or so garment factories that have sprung up as the industry tripled in size from 2000 to 2010. It is poised to triple again by 2020 to almost $50 billion in revenues. (All financial figures are in U.S.). More than 1,000 workers have died in a string of apparel-factory fires and building collapses in Southeast Asia in recent years.

Managerial expertise has not kept up with that growth. In a survey by British non-profit War on Want, 40 per cent of 988 Bangladeshi garment workers surveyed said they had been beaten by male supervisors. Disciplinary measures have included making the predominantly women workers stand on tables for hours, and forcing them to undress in front of co-workers.

  • The world’s two largest apparel merchants, H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB, Swedish owner of the H&M apparel chain; and Spain’s Inditex SA, owner of Zara, are among several mostly European retailers that have signed onto a new Accord on Fire and Building Safety (AFBS). The unusually ambitious initiative requires Western buyers to source only from suppliers with upgraded workplace conditions, and to pay up to $500,000 annually to each of their suppliers for safety training and building repairs. Joe Fresh is among the few North American firms to sign on to the AFBS. It is also contributing to a fund for relatives of Rana Plaza victims. GTA consumers might want to take a pass on goods at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc., Sears Holdings Inc. and the other mostly North American chains that have balked at embracing the AFBS. 
  • The vaunted codes of conduct and sporadic audits that Western firms have imposed on developing-world suppliers have been ineffectual. In their two most recent inspections of Rana Plaza, auditors for Western buyers missed the building’s perilous structural decay. Western retailers refuse to disclose the results of their supplier audits. By contrast, AFBS signatories are required to make public the findings of third-party inspectors they hire. 
  • If you doubt the power of Western consumer pressure, Nike Inc. was among the first to give in to it, in the 1990s. So did Wal-Mart, dropping a Kathie Lee Gifford apparel line made under sweatshop conditions by Honduran teenage women. More recently, Apple Inc. stepped up its scrutiny of Taiwan-based Foxconn, its supplier of iPhones, where workers were so over-stressed that some had resorted to suicide. 
  • But given the inadequacy of private-sector monitoring of offshore suppliers, to which Western buyers first pledged themselves some 20 years ago, local governments will have to step in and reinforce these efforts. Studies have shown that government-backed reforms in Indonesia, Cambodia and the Dominican Republic have increased productivity, employment and wages, and have improved safety conditions. Bangladesh’s labour minister has already committed to enforcing higher workplace-safety standards. 
  • Muhammad Yunus’ call for a minimum international wage for the global industry makes sense. Yunus is the Nobel laureate founder of the micro-lending pioneer Grameen Bank. Yunus suggests an increase in pay to 50 cents an hour, about twice the typical rate in a Bangladeshi industry whose average pay is one-sixth that of China’s. That leaves plenty of room for better pay without losing cost advantage. Yunus also proposes a 50-cent surcharge on exported garments. By his calculation, that would yield $1.8 billion annually for a fund to assist Bangladeshis with pensions, healthcare, decent housing, and other social needs. 
  • Western clothing consumers are caught up in a “fast fashion” trend of disposable-apparel buying. This forces offshore suppliers to rapidly ramp up production and abruptly shut it down when a four-month fad for $7 tank tops runs its course. Offshore suppliers coping with the resulting slender profit margins are pushed to cut corners, and workers suffer the brunt of that. “Our insatiable demand for variety and novelty,” writes New Yorker business analyst James Surowiecki, accounts for the “pell-mell work environment” in which “safety becomes an afterthought at best.” We can afford to pay a little more for clothes that are made to last. After inflation, North American apparel prices have actually dropped over the past two decades, compared with an 82 per cent hike in food prices.
The government and domestic manufacturers have already distributed cash for salary compensation and funeral expenses to workers, but it is still unknown how much long-term help will be available to disabled workers and victims’ families. It is also unclear how survivors will secure the jobs that the government has promised them, or whether the government will stand by its promises to amend the current labor law to, among other things, improve workers’ rights to organize freely.

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Mazharul Islam Kiron is a textile consultant and researcher on online business promotion. He is working with one European textile machinery company as a country agent. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.

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