Retailers compensate Bangladesh victims

Loblaw and Primark make pledge to help families of victims as owner of collapsed building is brought before court.

Two western retailers have promised to compensate families of garment workers killed when a factory building collapsed last week in Bangladesh.

The pledge from Britain’s Primark and Canada’s Loblaw came after the owner of the collapsed Rana Plaza was brought before a court in Dhaka on Monday.

Al Jazeera’s Daniel Lak, reporting from Loblaw’s headquarters in Canada, said that while the announcement of compensation is a partial victory for labour activists, what remains to be seen is the nature of the aid and how meaningful it will be for the families. 

The court has given the police 15 days to interrogate Mohammed Sohel Rana, the owner of the 9-story building. It has also ordered that Rana’s property be confiscated.

The ruling came as rescuers use heavy machinery to cut through the destroyed structure to the ground floor after hopes of finding any more survivors begin to fade.

The illegally constructed, 9-storey Rana Plaza collapsed on April 24 and killed more than 380 workers, making it the country’s worst industrial accident.

Al Jazeera’s special correspondent reporting from Bangladesh, said the building was built illegally around six years ago and housed factories producing for brands like Primark, JoeFresh and Benetton.

Western brands criticised over Dhaka collapse

He added that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who visited the site and met with survivors, has promised to severely punish those responsilble for the tragedy.

Negligence charges

Rana, who was arrested on Sunday, will be held for questioning on charges of negligence, illegal construction and forcing workers to join work.

His father, Abdul Khaleque, was also arrested on suspicion of aiding Rana to force people to work in a dangerous building.

Rana was brought to the Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court in a bullet-proof vest, and led away to an unknown detention place after the magistrate granted a police request to hold him longer before filing formal charges.

The crimes he is accused of carry a maximum punishment of seven years, although more charges could be added later.

Rana was arrested in the western border town of Benapole while he was apparently trying to flee to India. He is a local politician with the ruling Awami League party.

In renewed anger against conditions in garment factories, a mainstay of Bangladesh’s economy, hundreds of workers poured into the streets in the Dhaka suburb of Ashulia and set fire to an ambulance Monday, the Independent TV network reported. They also tried to set fire to a factory, it said.

Authorities shut down all garment factories in the Ashulia and Gazipur industrial suburbs, including one that had reportedly developed cracks and was evacuated earlier.

“There is little hope of finding anyone alive. Our men went inside and saw some dead bodies in the ground floor. But no one was seen alive,” said Brigadier General Ali Ahmed Khan, the chief of the fire brigade at the scene.

Other suspects

Rana had permission to build a 5-storey building but added more floors illegally. He last appeared in public on Tuesday in front of the Rana Plaza after huge cracks appeared in the building.

More Bangladesh survivors unlikely after fire

Witnesses said Rana assured tenants then that the building was safe. Police, however, ordered an evacuation. A bank and some first-floor shops closed, but managers of the garment factories on the upper floors told workers to continue their shifts.

Hours later, the Rana Plaza was reduced to rubble, crushing most victims under massive blocks of concrete.

Police have also arrested four owners of three factories. Also in detention for questioning are two municipal engineers who were involved in approving the building’s design. Local TV stations reported that the Bangladesh High Court has frozen the bank accounts of the owners of all five garment factories.

The death has toll surpassed a fire five months ago that killed 112 people and brought widespread pledges to improve worker-safety standards. But since then, very little has changed in Bangladesh.

The collapse and previous disasters in garment factories have focused attention on the poor working conditions of workers who toil for as little as $38 a month to produce clothing for top international brands.

Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second largest in the world after China and is worth $20bn.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies