Disaster again strikes Bangladesh garment industry
The collapse of a building housing several companies is the latest deadly incident involving apparel producers.
An eight-story building in Bangladesh that housed several garment factories collapsed early Wednesday. At least 70 people died, and that toll is expected to rise as rescue workers dig through the rubble.
A fireman told Reuters about 2,000 people were in the building, in a suburb of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, when the upper stories began to fall onto the floors below.
Bangladesh is second only to China in garment exports. But as the The New York Times reports, the nation's garment and textile industry "has been beleaguered by safety concerns, angry protests over rock-bottom wages and other problems."
In November, 112 workers were killed by a fire at the Tasreen Fashions factory in another Dhaka suburb. And officials quoted by Reuters say factory owners in the latest disaster ignored warnings to keep people out after cracks were discovered in the building Tuesday.
(The Tasreen Fashions fire is just one of 13 horrific industrial accidents that have occurred in the past century -- from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City to the Fukushima nuclear reactor explosions and meltdowns in Japan.)
Bangladesh, according to The Times, has the world's lowest labor costs, with a minimum wage of about $37 a month for a garment industry job. "Retailers and brands including Wal-Mart (WMT), H&M, Sears (SHLD), Gap, (GPS) Tommy Hilfiger (part of PVH Corp. (PVH)) and many others," the newspaper adds, "have outsourced the production of billions of dollars of clothes there."
In the aftermath of the Tasreen Fashions fire, Wal-Mart earlier this month announced it was instituting a zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized subcontracting in Bangladesh. The world's largest retailer also said it was contributing $1.6 million to help launch an academy in Bangladesh "to provide comprehensive training on fire safety and environmental, health and workplace safety."
But Tessel Pauli, a spokeswoman for the Clean Clothes Campaign, in Amsterdam, is calling on U.S and European brands using Bangladeshi factories to act further in the wake of this latest tragedy.
"Immediate relief and long-term compensation must be provided by the brands who were sourcing from these factories," she said in a statement to the BBC, "and responsibility taken for their lack of action to prevent this happening."
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