Following a weekend of violent protests, there are further developments in the wake of the tragic collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh; as arrests are made, workers move from trying to rescue survivors to trying to recover bodies.
Use of heavy machinery to clear debris has been put off as long as possible so as to avoid harming any potential survivors, but efforts have slowed to a crawl against fallen slabs of concrete and heavy beams--ranging from five to 12 tons--which must now be removed by crane. As the rescue attempt moves into this second stage, the death toll has soared to 381, according to local news site BDNews24.com.
The decision to use the machinery came down around 11:30 PM Sunday evening, and while workers are still exercising extreme caution, BDNews24 reports that the assumption is there are no further survivors.
It's heartbreaking to read the first-hand accounts of what is happening at the building site: Witnesses report an overwhelming stench of death and decaying bodies in the 100 degree heat, rescuers forced to amputate limbs on site with little but local anesthesia, family members waiting for news of their loved ones overwhelmed by their grief. Rescuers spent nearly 12 hours trying to reach a woman who was still alive, passing her food and water, only to be thwarted by an outbreak of fire; the woman did not survive.
WWD is reporting that not only had workers been forced to enter a building which they felt to be unsafe, as previously reported, but that the building had never received proper permits; they had a "permit for a five-story building from the local municipality, which did not have the authority to grant it, and three floors had been added illegally." Additionally, the building was erected on the "site of a pond filled in with sand and earth, weakening the foundations."
In the face of all this, then, it is perhaps not surprising that thousands of garment workers rose up in protest over the weekend, according to the New York Times reports. At least two factories were set on fire; protesters also took bamboo poles to some 150-plus cars. They have called for the death penalty for the owner of the building, Sohel Rana, as well as the owners of the garment factories.
So far, six arrests have been made. The Times reports that two executives from New Wave Apparels, one of the five factories housed in the complex, turned themselves in Saturday morning: Bazlus Samad, the managing director, and Mahmudur Rahman Tapash, the company chairman. Also among the arrested are Aminul Islam, chairman of Phantom Apparels Ltd, and Imtemam Hossain and Alam Ali, two engineers involved with the building.
Police had also detained Rana's wife in hopes of forcing him to surrender; he was eventually captured Sunday night at the Indian border and brought back to Dhaka. Rana blamed factory owners for the disaster, according to BDNews24: “I did not force the [garment factory] owners, but it was them who forced me saying they will face huge loss and shipments will be cancelled if the factories were closed even for a day," he told reporters.
BDNews also reports that cracks "have also surfaced in another building owned by Rana at the Bazar Road on Dhaka-Aricha highway."
Brands involved with the factories include British stores Primark and Bon Marche, Spanish department store chain El Corte Ingles, Spanish brand Mango and Canadian brand Joe Fresh; WWD reports that Joe Fresh will meet with the Retail Council of Canada on Monday in "an urgent meeting of its Responsible Trade Committee to 'discuss how to address this unfortunate situation and be a part of the solution.'"
The Clean Clothes Campaign is estimating total compensation costs, including emergency treatments and recompensation for families, to be at $30 million; they have begun to reach out to brands reportedly involved, and urge them to donate money to these funds.
So far, over 2,400 people have been rescued. While an accurate count of the missing is still unavailable--officials report that they have begun compiling a list from computer records Sunday evening--estimates place the number of people unaccounted for at around 1,100.
The Times is calling this the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry.