Owners Arrested Following Deadly Bangladesh Apparel Factory Collapse

4/29/2013
Following days of search-and-rescue efforts to free trapped apparel factory workers and recover bodies in the wake of a disaster that so far has claimed 385 lives, Mohammed Sohel Rana, the owner of the collapsed eight-floor building Rana Plaza that housed five garment factories, was arrested by the Rapid Action Battalion after a four-day manhunt while he was attempting to cross the border into India and transported back to Bangladesh's capital city Dhaka via helicopter, according to a Reuters report.

The collapse was the third major industrial incident in five months in Bangladesh, the second-largest apparel exporter in the world behind China. In November, a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory in a suburb of Dhaka killed 112 people.

According to a CNN report, the factories contained in the building had, at some point or another, made items for The Children's Place, Dress Barn and British retailer Primark. It had also made goods for Joe Fresh, some of which were destined for J.C. Penney stores, since the brand has a partnership with the department store. The brand Benetton said one of the factories had completed and shipped a one-time order for it several weeks ago. One factory in the building, Ether Tex, lists Wal-Mart as one of its buyers, though the retailer said it had no authorized production in the building.

Rana was brought to court Monday morning wearing a helmet and bulletproof jacket while lawyers and protesters chanted, “hang him.”

According to the Reuters report, officials said they were unlikely to find more survivors in the rubble of the building that collapsed on April 24, burying hundreds of garment workers in the country's most devastating industrial accident.

Rescue workers now are using heavy cranes to lift concrete blocks from the rubble of Rana Plaza. Many European and American brands bought clothes from the factories in Rana Plaza.

Officials so far have arrested eight individuals on charges of faulty construction and causing unlawful death: four factory bosses, two engineers, Rana, and his father, Abdul Khalek,identified by officials as the legal owner of the building. Police are seeking a fifth factory boss, David Mayor, who they said was a Spanish citizen, according to Reuters.

The court ordered that Rana be held for 15 days "on remand" for interrogation.

Bangladeshi law upholds the death penalty for individuals convivted of murder and the most serious categories of manslaughter.

Rescue personnel are searching for hundreds of the mostly female workers who remain unaccounted for. Search efforts were delayed overnight by a fire. Late on Sunday, sparks from rescuers' equipment started a fire in the debris as searchers raced to save a woman who may have been the last survivor in the rubble. Her body was recovered on Monday afternoon.

"We are giving the highest priority to saving people, but there is little hope of finding anyone alive," army spokesman Shahinul Islam told reporters at the site.

About 2,500 people have been rescued from the wrecked building in the commercial suburb of Savar, about 20 miles from the capital, Dhaka.

Officials said the eight-story complex had been built on swampy ground without the correct permits, and more than 3,000 workers - most of them young women - entered the building on Wednesday morning despite warnings that it was structurally unsafe.

A bank and shops in the same building closed after a jolt was felt and cracks were noticed on some pillars on Tuesday.

Such incidents have raised serious questions about worker safety and low wages in the poor South Asian country, which relies on garments for 80 percent of its exports. The industry employs about 3.6 million people, most of them women, some of whom earn as little as $38 a month.

In a development that may raise questions about the authorities' handling of the rescue operation, a spokesman at the British High Commission on Monday confirmed that an offer of technical assistance from Britain had been declined.

Anger over the disaster has sparked days of protests and clashes, and paramilitary troops were deployed in the industrial hub of Gazipur as garment workers took to the streets again on Monday, smashing cars and setting fire to an ambulance.

The unrest forced authorities to shut down many factories, which had reopened on Monday after two days of closures. Police fired teargas to disperse protesters.

The main opposition has called for a national strike on May 2 in protest over the incident.

Emdadul Islam, chief engineer of the state-run Capital Development Authority, said last week that Rana had not received the proper construction consent for the building, and had illegally added three stories to the original five.

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