Workers protest in Dhaka over factory deaths

Survivors still being found a day after garment factory building collapsed killing more than 200.

Thousands of garment factory workers have protested in the capital, Dhaka, over the death of more than 200 workers in building collapse, as rescuers continued to hunt for survivors, local media have reported.

Al Jazeera’s special correspondent, whom we are not naming because of reporting restrictions, said on Thursday that thousands of protesters took to the streets of Dhaka with sticks in their hands chanting slogans such as “we want execution of the garment factory owners”.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association building office has been attacked, our correspondent said.

Workers have blocked a road and indulged in vandalism at some places, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

The protests come a day after a garment factory collapsed killing about 200, and there are fears the death toll might go up, even as criticism mounted of foreign firms that source cheap clothes from the country.

After visiting the disaster site, Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, the interior minister, told reporters the building had violated construction codes and that “the culprits would be punished”.

More than 1,000 people were injured when the site housing five garment factories on the outskirts of Dhaka imploded on Wednesday, allegedly after managers ignored workers’ warnings that the building had become unstable.

Mourning for victims

Flags flew at half-mast on Thursday as the shell-shocked country declared a day of mourning for the victims of the nation’s worst factory disaster, which highlighted a new safety concerns in Bangladesh’s vital garment industry.

Army Brigadier General Mohammed Siddiqul Alam Shikder said many people were still trapped in the building, which housed a number of garment factories employing hundreds of people.

Workers had said a day earlier that large cracks had developed in the structure.

A clearer picture of the rescue operation would be available by the afternoon, Shikder said.

Searchers worked through the night to get through the jumbled mess of concrete with drills or their bare hands, passing water and flashlights to those pinned inside the building.

“I gave them whistles, water, torchlights. I heard them cry. We can’t leave them behind this way,” said fire official Abul Khayer.

Colonel Ibne Fazal Shaikuzzaman said that dozens of people had been found alive in a room in the Rana Plaza and all of them had been rescued.

The local police chief, Mohammaed Asaduzzaman, said police and the government’s Capital Development Authority had filed separate cases of negligence against the building owner.

Rescuers cut holes in the jumbled mess of concrete, passing water and torches to those pinned inside the building as rescue operations illuminated by floodlights continued through the night.

The disaster came less than five months after a factory fire killed 112 people and underscored the unsafe conditions in Bangladesh’s booming garment industry, the second biggest in the world.

Large cracks

Workers said they had hesitated to go into the building on Wednesday morning because it had developed such large cracks a day earlier that it even drew the attention of local news channels.

After the cracks were reported, managers of a bank that had an office in the building evacuated their employees.

The garment factories kept working, ignoring instructions from the local industrial police force said Mostafizur Rahman, director of that force.

Abdur Rahim, who worked on the fifth floor, said a factory manager gave assurances that there was no problem, so employees went inside.

“After about an hour or so, the building collapsed suddenly,” Rahim said. He next remembered regaining consciousness outside.

Only the ground floor of the Rana Plaza in the Savar district remained intact after the collapse.

Fire crews said up to 2,000 people were in the building when it collapsed.

Among the garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms.

Altogether, they produced several million shirts, pants and other garments a year.

The New Wave companies, according to their website, make clothing for major brands including North American retailers The Children’s Place and Dress Barn, Britain’s Primark, Spain’s Mango and Italy’s Benetton.

Ether Tex said Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, was one of its customers. 

Primark acknowledged it was using a factory in Rana Plaza, but many other retailers distanced themselves from the disaster, saying they were not involved with the factories at the time of the collapse or had not recently ordered garments from them.

Building collapses are common in Bangladesh. Many multi-storey blocks are built in violation of construction standards.

In 2005, dozens were killed after a multi-storey garment factory collapsed in the same area.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies