To recap: An eight-story garment factory building in Savar, Bangladesh, in which over 2,500 people were working, collapsed suddenly Wednesday morning.
According to the latest reports, there are now 230 confirmed dead and hundreds injured, with an unknown number of people still unaccounted for. The disaster comes on the heels of two deadly fires at nearby factories.
In addition to the sharp rise in body count, several new details have emerged since yesterday’s tragic incident, including which brands are involved and details on what’s being done to prevent similar disasters in the future.
Here’s what we know:
The building housed four garment factories: New Wave Style, Ether Tex, Canton Tech Apparel and New Wave Bottoms.
The Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity told WWD that the factories were making items for Mango and Benetton. Another organization, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), added Primark, C&A, KIK and Wal-Mart to that list. Additionally, the Workers’ Rights Consortium told CNN Money that Dress Barn and Joe Fresh were also among the factory’s clientele.
Joe Fresh confirmed that one of the factories produced a “small number” of items for the Canadian brand. Primark, too, confirmed that one of its suppliers used the factory. A rep for the UK brand told WWD that they are “shocked and deeply saddened by this appalling incident” and that the brand’s ethical trade team is “working to collect information, assess which communities the workers come from, and to provide support where possible.” Wal-Mart told CNN that it is investigating whether the factory was currently producing items for the company.
A rep for Benetton told us, “Benetton Group maintains that none of the companies involved are suppliers to Benetton Group or any of its brands.” Mango’s PR told us the factories “are not official suppliers of MANGO, although we had established contact with one of them in order to produce a sample order for various lines of the brand. Nothing had been produced since, in accordance with the brand action protocol, we still had to confirm the quality standards and commence the social audit we usually perform with all new suppliers. MANGO currently has 15 suppliers in Bangladesh, a country which accounts for 10% of the brand’s total production.”
Although the Bangladeshi government is said to have increased factory inspections and regulations, an anonymous official from Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association told WWD that there is still much to be done. “The efforts will simply have to change and intensify after this tragedy,” he said.
According to the trade, the CCC is urging companies and government officials to agree to a binding fire and building safety program it has developed with labor unions and rights organizations called the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. So far, PVH Corp. and Tchibo, a German retailer, have signed on and two more companies are needed for the program to be activated.
Helena Molin Valdés, deputy director of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, told WWD that while Bangladesh technically has good building codes and architects, the problem is with enforcement and implementation. “In many occasions, the authorities are looking the other way or taking some kind of bribes,” she claimed.
According to The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, 80% of workers in the factory were women aged 18-20. They also report that the workers are threatening to strike if the owner of the building, Mr. Rana, is not imprisoned. The workers also want U.S. Government to deny Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits to Bangladesh until they can unionize. “One hundred percent of the workers want a union,” the Institute claims. “But the owners and Bangladeshi government have refused to allow it. Rather than support the workers, the owners hire thugs to beat the workers, firing and blacklisting any worker who speaks up.”
The AP reports that the incident has incited a protest, with hundreds of garment workers from the surrounding area marching in the streets.
As for the local government’s response, Raziuddin Ahmed Razu, labor minister, told WWD that they are inspecting other factories and that “If any of the garment factories are found noncompliant, it will be closed.”
Obviously, actions speak louder than words, and hopefully it doesn’t take any more lost lives to put Bangladesh labor reform into action.