Rana Plaza


A look into garment sector one year after the worst workplace tragedy

Rana Plaza will remind us how a nation united at a crucial time to help humanity.


Inam Ahmed

IT will remain with us for ages to come and fester like some mysterious disease to remind us of our shameful lust, greed, nonchalance and brutality with which we treated our key export earners.

Corpses tangles in the rubble hang as rescuers make way into the collapsed structure. Photo Aninda Kabir Avik
Corpses  hang tangled in the rubble as rescuers make way into the collapsed structure. Photo: Aninda Kabir Avik

Those of us who have covered the tragedy of Rana Plaza a year ago, will never forget the screams of the workers stuck inside that hunk of a collapsed building. The images are so raw and vivid --  the concrete slabs impaling the heart of the nation; the crumpled bodies hanging high on the ground and being ignored by the helpless rescuers who cannot reach there; the corpses piling on the ground -- one particular corpse looking grotesquely bloated because it has simply been squeezed to a two-feet meat chunk; the helplessness of the fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers all running towards the collapsed building with pictures of their loved ones in hand; the long nights filled with terrible cry for help coming from the bottom of a hell.

But Rana Plaza will remain with us for many other reasons too. It will remind us how a nation united at a crucial time to help humanity. There are snapshots that will keep on making us proud – the hospitals, Enam Hospital in particular, and the doctors scrambling to save every broken soul carted in, the thousands of volunteers – simple students, workers, rickshawpullers -- who actually defied death to reach every nook and corner of the concrete jungle even before the trained rescuers could go and dragged out the trapped ones; the pharmaceutical companies rushing medicines to the hospital free of cost; the big infrastructure companies mobilising their cranes and equipment which otherwise were not available with the fire department to pull apart the slabs; the army officers and jawans working night and day with their equipment. The scenes are so many and one cannot chart them all in one writing.

Rana Plaza will also stick to our memory because of the valiance and desperation the trapped workers showed. The men and women, their hands and legs buried under huge slabs and pillars asking rescuers to piece themselves out and they were. Those who performed the job of severing their limbs were no trained persons and yet they held their nerves.

Volunteers bring out a body from the rubble of Rana Plaza after cutting a hole on the rooftop of the collapsed building. Photo: Star
Volunteers bring out a body from the rubble of Rana Plaza after cutting a hole on the rooftop of the collapsed building. Photo: Star

Rana Plaza will remain us with us because it was the single incident that really shook up the world’s worst sweat industry. Reforms were carried out following it though not fully to our satisfaction, inspection system was put in place, the heartless attitude of the owners were softened though not to the extent that could make us happy, and in general safety stands were improved.

Those more than 1,100 souls lost under the rubble of Rana Plaza have actually jolted the rest 16 crore people from a sleep. This is also why Rana Plaza will remain with us forever.


CONTRIBUTORS' PHOTOS

We requested our readers to send their photos on Rana Plaza tragedy and received immense response. Here is a selection of their photos. We express our gratitude for this gesture:

"Major stakeholders have taken many steps which I think will prove effective in medium to long term"

- Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, says while assessing developments in garment sector over the past one year.

Fardaus Mobarok

THE country’s garment industry witnessed broad reforms after the Rana Plaza collapse, which the industry insiders and experts noted would have a bigger positive impact on the sector in the future.

Key stakeholders including the government, various government agencies, the BGMEA, factory owners and buyers made significant progress to cope with the multi-dimensional challenges of governance and corruption that exposed the sector to unprecedented vulnerabilities.

The collapse of Rana Plaza in Savar, the worst workplace disaster in textile history, on April 24 last year turned out to be a costly eye opener.

A recent study by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) found that several industry stakeholders took a total of 102 initiatives of varying dimensions against 54 out of 63 types of governance challenges. Of the 102 initiatives, 31 percent were implemented completely, 60 percent witnessed varying degrees of progress while 9 percent remained unaddressed.

The government amended the labour law of 2006 in July last year to allow trade unions by workers in the factories, a key indicator of workers' rights.

A new salary structure for the workers was implemented from December last year.

In addition, the administration has allowed three agencies – two international and a national – to inspect factories for ensuring workplace safety. The agencies are: the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).

The Accord, a platform of 150 retailers and brands mainly from Europe, has so far carried out inspections of 80 factories of 1626. The Alliance, a platform of 27 US-based apparel retailers and brands, inspected 247 out of 626 factories. Meanwhile, Buet has completed inspection at 247 factories out of around 2,000 factories, according to the TIB study.

The National Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire, Electrical Safety and Physical Integrity in the Ready‐Made Garment Sector of Bangladesh (NAP) is the key initiative under which the government authorities and supporting organisations committed to various activities in response to the Rana Plaza incident.

The NAP is one of the notable initiatives undertaken by local and international stakeholders, part of which seeks to ensure long-term enforcement of a globally acceptable fire, electrical and structural safety standard across the garment industry that is harmonised with the standards of the foreign buyers/retailers.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) has taken upon advisory and coordinator roles to support the timely implementation of the prescribed activities and minimise duplication of efforts.

Other important steps taken to ensure workplace safety included the establishment of a task force on building and fire safety of the Cabinet Committee for the RMG sector, upgradation of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) to a directorate, the development and introduction of unified fire safety checklist to be used by all relevant government agencies, establishment of a workers’ safety hotline through the Fire Service and Civil Defence (FSCD), and lastly, the adoption of a National Occupational Safety and Health Policy.

"Working conditions and workers' rights issues are receiving high priority in Bangladesh; The responses by the Government, the RMG industry, and workers’ organisations to recent tragedies in Bangladesh RMG sector are cause for measured optimism," ILO Country Director Srinivas Reddy said in February.

From all these perspectives, important steps have been taken, noted Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

Rana Plaza photographed a few months before its collapse on April 24, 2013.
Rana Plaza photographed a few months before its collapse on April 24, 2013.
The bulding came down falling after the employees joined their work on April 24 morning. Photo: Star
The bulding came falling down after the employees re-joined their work on April 24 morning. Photo: Star

"The labour act has been amended with provisions to safeguard workers' interest. Now the trade unions are getting the opportunities for registration.  It has become easier. More than 100 new trade unions have been registered," he said.

"Although the law has been amended, I think that the enforcement of the law will have to be much stricter."

He noted that entrepreneurs will have to change their mindset towards trade union rights at their respective factories.

"So, I think there has to be initiatives from various angles. One is the government taking appropriate steps legal, institutional, more concrete and specific initiatives and on the other hand, the entrepreneurs in terms of enforcing the minimum wage, in terms of helping their members to support the trade unions, in terms of safeguarding the interest of both the entrepreneurs and the workers."

Speaking to The Daily Star online, Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said 146 trade unions got registration in the last one year against only 38 in the previous eight years.

"We implemented the minimum wage of Tk 5,300 from Tk 3,000 for a worker at a time when all businesses came to a halt due to political violence," he said, adding the salary has been increased by 219 percent over the last four years.

The building safety, fire safety and electrical safety inspection is being carried out. We did not see building safety inspection before. We saw occupational and health safety inspection in the other time, the BGMEA chief said.

Relatives of trapped victims and curious people throng the collapse site as the news spread. Photo: Star
Relatives of trapped victims and other people thronged to the collapse site as the news spread. Photo: Star

He added the capacity of hose pipes is also being checked so that every factory itself becomes a fire system. "It’s a major improvement."

Atiqul said the process to set up all types of upgraded fire safety equipment including fire door and fire detector at factories has begun. "But it will take time. It is not possible overnight because different brands are suggesting different types of fire safety equipment. We want to solve the problem through the Accord, Alliance and National Action Plan."

He said so far no factories denied access to the Accord and Alliance for inspection. “Apart from the Accord and Alliance, ILO and Buet are also carrying out inspection at factories through the NAP."

Building safety inspection at all factories will be completed by December 30 next, he hoped.

Mustafizur emphasised on changing business model for the survival in the competitive market. "After the Rana Plaza tragedy, there was a growing recognition that business as usual will not do and there has to be significant changes in the walking of the sector. So, I think there was a growing recognition that major changes will have to be undertaken."

Mustafizur thinks there are also major concerns regarding how small and medium enterprises will adjust restructuring is taking place.

The business model which has been developed in Bangladesh till now – particularly focused on sub-contracting business and the sub-contracting model has now come under question because many of the sub-contracting factories and enterprises did not have the safety, security of workers’ rights.

"Those initiatives of further strengthening of fire safety department, more recruitment of inspectors will have to be further strengthened over the next years so that we can have an export-oriented readymade garment in Bangladesh, which is tuned to the demand of a changing global circumstances and global demands."

He is very much hopeful that this tragedy and challenge which originated from the Rana Plaza accident could be translated into a major opportunity for the country.

"We are passing through a window of opportunity and everyone is talking about China plus one. Bangladesh is very well positioned and placed to take opportunity of this growing global market for apparels but in order to do that we have to project Bangladesh as a compliant country," he observed.

"I will never work again for any garment factory."

– Rehana Akter, who used to work on the seventh floor of Rana Plaza, says recalling the haunting memory

Fardaus Mobarok

UZZAL Das was a sewing machine operator at New Wave Style on the sixth floor of Rana Plaza. His life came to a halt at 9:30 in the morning when the building which had developed cracks a day earlier collapsed on the 24th of April, 2013.

"Part of a beam of the structure fell on me. I was desperately waiting under the rubble for someone to rescue me,” said Das while describing the nightmare of the accident.

A total of 17 survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse took vocational training at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) on electronic equipment repair. Photo: Moyukh Mahtab
A total of 17 survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse took vocational training at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) on electronic equipment repair. Photo: Moyukh Mahtab

Das was trapped under the rubble for nine hours before the rescue operation reached him.

Another survivor, Md Alauddin, worked at Ether Tex, a floor down. When the building came down, he too found himself trapped and lost hope of surviving.

"I did not expect to get rescued. I was praying to Allah that I could see the face of my daughter once more before dying," he said. The day was the birthday of his little girl, he added.

Uzzal Das, a survivor of the Rana Plaza disaster, practicing electronic equipment repair work at CRP as part of his training. He hopes to set up a mobile servicing shop after completion. Photo: Moyukh Mahtab
Uzzal Das, a survivor of the Rana Plaza disaster, practicing electronic equipment repair work at CRP as part of his training. He hopes to set up a mobile servicing shop after completion. Photo: Moyukh Mahtab

He was trapped for 10 hours before rescue.

Both Das and Alauddin suffered multiple injuries in the disaster and are now receiving physiotherapy at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) after completion of their treatment.Jhorna Rani Nath, the electronics instructor at CRP, teaches Uzzal Das on electronic equipment repair. Three Rana Plaza survivors are at present taking the course. Photo: Moyukh Mahtab

Jhorna Rani Nath, the electronics instructor at CRP, teaches Uzzal Das on electronic equipment repair. Three Rana Plaza survivors are at present taking the course. Photo: Moyukh Mahtab

They are not at a loss thinking how they will earn to run their families.

Das only got back his ability to walk after an operation on his right leg and year-long treatment.

He has completed a six-month vocational training course on electronics under the National University at the CRP rehabilitation centre.

He adds he will go back to his parents in Barguna after completing his physiotherapy at the CRP and set up a mobile servicing shop in the area.

The nightmarish day when Rana Plaza collapsed still haunts him. The sight of high-rise buildings scares him. "I know all buildings will not fall apart, but the fear is yet to go from the mind."

Though Uzzal looks fit physically, he has lost the strength to do heavy labour due to the severe pain at his waist, head and kidney apart from the fractured leg.

Md Alauddin is also unable to lift anything heavy.

He is set to be released from CRP around two months later on completion of his training on tailoring. 

"As a technician, I had a handsome salary. I used to bear the expenses of my parents alongside my wife and daughter. I have no salary now. I got some money during treatment which has been finished by this time," he says.

He expressed his satisfaction with the treatment and training course at the CRP but said he has to take physiotherapy for an unknown period of time.

He wishes to start a small business.

Rehana Akter, 24, whose left leg had to be amputated, said she had been working at the New Wave Styles Limited on the seventh floor of the building before the accident.

After the building collapsed, she found her left leg crushed by a part of a wall with blood spilling out of the leg.

She had her leg amputated at a city hospital, and was admitted to CRP for further treatment and physiotherapy. She has been provided with a prosthetic leg recently.

She does not want to go back to her previous profession. “I will not work in any garment factory. Our life has been ruined. If we were in good physical condition, we could do something to earn our livelihood.”

She wishes to go for a vocational training course at the CRP.

She is still haunted by the memory of the day of collapse. "I feel very bad whenever I remember that day. I used to be physically fit but I have lost that. I cannot console myself.  The accident has taken away everything."

Total 239 survivors completed vocational trainings on different courses including dress making and tailoring, general electronics and shop management under a project by the CRP to rehabilitate a total of 502 Rana Plaza collapse victims.

According to the rehabilitation centre, 123 have already been integrated to the society after training.

In the current session, thirty three victims are taking different vocational courses.

The actual number of workers who were working at the five garment factories at Rana Plaza during the collapse is yet to be known.

Rana Plaza victims take part in the electronics course along with other patients at CRP, hoping to rejoin society and earn their living afterwards. Photo: Moyukh Mahtab
Rana Plaza victims take part in the electronics course along with other patients at CRP, hoping to rejoin society and earn their living afterwards. Photo: Moyukh Mahtab

Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) initially gave an estimate of 3,600 workers.

According to Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence, around 2,500 people were rescued after the disaster.  

The accident of the event killed over 1,135 workers and more than double of the number were injured.

"Significant progress is being made to improve workplace conditions and strengthen workers' rights as a result of changes made to labour laws in Bangladesh bolstered by a sharp rise in the number of unions registering in 2013 within the ready-made garment sector."

- ILO Country Director Srinivas Reddy said in February

Fardaus Mobarok

WORKPLACE conditions have improved over the last one year since the Rana Plaza collapse although further improvement is needed for sustainability of the garment industry, labour leaders and workers said.

Dalia Sikder, a sewing machine operator at Natural Apparels Ltd in Rampura, said now all exits remain unlocked when the factory remains in operation. "Earlier, some gates remained locked while others blocked with cartoons."

Extinguishers at the factory are now updated, she said.

"Fire drills are also taking place almost regularly and workers are provided with fire training with the help of firemen from the Fire Service and Civil Defence."

Heavy machinery work day and night to remove rubble of collapsed Rana Plaza. Photo: Star
Heavy machinery work day and night to remove rubble of collapsed Rana Plaza. Photo: Star

All these happened due to the pressure from the union, noted Dalia, also unit chief of trade union at the factory.

She said she got her unit registered following the deadliest industrial disaster of the country.

According to her, fire drill, fire training and other safety measures are taking place almost on regular basis in the factories where trade unions are active.

"But, the safety measures are either absent or irregular at factories without trade unions."

Firemen and volunteers climb up ladders to rescue victims from the collapsed nine-storey building. Photo: Star
Firemen and volunteers climb up ladders to rescue victims from the collapsed nine-storey building. Photo: Star

Daily Star Online received similar versions from several other workers and trade union leaders.

Md Sagar, of Weeny Apparels Ltd; Salma Akter, of Dress and Dressmatic; and Md Reaz, of Lyric Industry Pvt Ltd, who give leadership to the trade unions at their respective factories, complained of harassment and obstructions by the management.

"I have been attacked in different times by miscreants and deprived of various facilities for giving leadership," Dalia said, adding that her salary is deducted if she remains absent from work for attending workers’ rights programmes.

Md Sagar, who has been working with Weeny Apparels Ltd as a sewing machine operator for the last five years, said, "Physical assault and hurling abusive words at workers by the factory officials were a regular matter. Now physical torture has stopped although hurling of abusive words is going on as usual."

Fire drills or training is very much irregular in their factory, he said.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) also observed improvement in the workplace conditions following the amendment to the labour law.

"Working conditions and workers’ rights issues are receiving high priority in Bangladesh; The responses by the government, the RMG industry, and workers’ organisations to recent tragedies in Bangladesh RMG sector are cause for measured optimism," Srinivas Reddy, ILO country director for Bangladesh, at a programme in February.

Sagar, also trade union vice-president of the factory unit, highlighted obstructions from the management to their union registered.

"The management sent our factory into vacation when the inspection was dated for registration of the union."

A rescuer rushes to medical help with a victim on his back. Photo: Star
A rescuer rushes to medical help with a victim on his back. Photo: Star

"Following the formation of the trade union, we have been able to stop some bad practice at the factory. Our normal duty was eight ours. But now we brought down it to six hours," he added.

Some garment owners denied the allegations. "Some incidents may happen as most of the labour leaders and managers are unaware of their rights and limitations. We have launched training for mid-level managers so that they know the law and deal with the leaders accordingly," said Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

He said 146 trade unions got registration in the last one year against only 38 in the previous eight years.

Trapped under tons of concrete and steel, a victim seeks help. He eventually died at the same place two days later. Photo: Star
Trapped under tons of concrete and steel, a victim seeks help. He eventually died at the same place two days later. Photo: Star

Trade union leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with the government and the BGMEA for not taking timely, sufficient steps to make the workplaces safe.

"Instead of taking proper measures to make the workplaces safer, both the government and the BGMEA spent most of their times to get back GSP and save the unfit factories," said Babul Akhter, president of Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation.

"Constructing new buildings for moving factories from the unfit buildings is time-consuming, but the government and BGMEA could have taken appropriate measures to fix the fire and electric measures at every factory by the last year."

When international buyers put pressure on the garment manufacturers, the government tried to save the unfit factories, he pointed out.

It was the duty of the government to identify the risky factory buildings and move the units to safe buildings, he insisted.

Babul Akhter pointed out that the BGMEA itself did not try to identify risky garment factories. "Rather it took different ill attempts to save such factories."

A year on, and all that remains of the nine storey building is rubble and mangled steel. Photo: Star
A year on, and all that remains of the nine storey building is rubble and mangled steel. Photo: Star

BGMEA President Atiqul Islam rejected the allegations, saying: "Inspection at garment factories are taking place in full swing and the measures are being taken to make the workplace safe."

Fire safety involves a number of stakeholders, said Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

"The government is taking some measures and the BGMEA is also carrying out inspection. Accord and Alliance are also taking a number of steps. So, I think there has to be more coordination with regard to fire safety, building safety and electrical safety of the enterprises," he added.

"There are discontents that it could have been done an in a bit faster manner, and I agree with that. For example, the government has initiated the recruitment of inspectors. This process can be expedited further. The directorate has been designated into department and they have been more power, but it is the enforcement of those which is very important. So, good governance in this regard has to be enforced."

Building collapses, factory fires, and other incidents in RMG sector claimed 1,512 workers' lives between 2005 and 2013 while 1,691 were killed between 1990 and 2013

Fardaus Mobarok

AT least 1,841 workers have been killed in different types of accidents including building collapse and fire in the readymade garment industry in the last 12 years, according to Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (Bils).

More than 9,595 garment workers have been injured in the incidents, many of whom have lost their ability to work. Many of the injured and their families did not get compensation.

Corpses lined up after rescue from the rubble of Rana Plaza which collapsed on April 24, 2013. Photo: Rahul Talukder
Corpses lined up after rescue from the rubble of Rana Plaza which collapsed on April 24, 2013. Photo: Rahul Talukder

At least 1,135 workers were killed and 2,500 others injured in the Rana Plaza collapse on April 24 last year at Savar.

The worst disaster in the history of the garment industry happened just a few months after the Tazreen Fashions fire which claimed over a hundred lives.

A big number of garment factory buildings are structurally unsafe as they are illegally converted into factories that operate day and night to meet production targets.

Lines of coffins stacked for the dead from the Rana Plaza disaster. 1,135 people died in the collapse. Photo: Abu Syeed Sumon
Lines of coffins stacked for the dead from the Rana Plaza disaster. A total of 1,135 people died in the collapse. Photo: Abu Syeed Sumon

Poor compliances, sub-standard working environment, sub-contracting business style and lower prices offered by the international retailers are the other reasons for the frequent deadly incidents.

Labour leaders blame the accident on lack of good will on the part of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA).

Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmed, assistant executive director of the Bils said, "The BGMEA forms committees after every accident at any garment factory just to save their people instead of punishing the responsible garment owners."

For example, he said, Delwar Hossain, managing director of Tazreen Fashions Ltd, was allowed to hold a press conference at the BGMEA office just three days after the deadly fire that killed 112 workers and injured many others.

With a foot sticking out, a dead from the Rana Plaza disaster, trapped under rubble. Photo: Jewel Paul
With a foot sticking out, a dead from the Rana Plaza disaster, trapped under rubble. Photo: Jewel Paul

"But after the Rana Plaza collapse, they have been the sufferers," he said adding, "The owners have been bound to accept many things under pressure from the buyers."  

Relatives hold up photos of missing workers. Photo: Star
Relatives hold up photos of missing workers. Photo: Star

"There are some genuine businessmen in the garment industry who had some realisations after the tragedy and are trying to make their factories compliant," said Sultan Uddin.

After every deadly incident, the international communities reacted sharply. In some cases, the retailers scrapped purchasing agreements with the factory or cancelled the orders.

After the Tazreen incident, the US threatened to cancel GSP, a duty-waiver facility for some selected items from the LDCs to the US market.

The United States finally scrapped the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) following the Rana Plaza building collapse, citing Bangladesh's failure in ensuring internationally-recognised worker rights.

The Bils data shows that building collapses, factory fires, and other incidents in the country’s largest earning sector claimed the lives of 1512 workers between 2005 and 2013 while 1691 workers were killed between 1990 and 2013.

A Bils official said the data has been prepared based on news reports published in 14 national dailies.

The Spectrum Sweater Industries Ltd, located at Savar about 30 kilometres northwest of Dhaka, collapsed on April 11, 2005 after additional floors, that had been illegally built, gave way. The collapse killed 64 people and injured another 80.

Less than a year later, a five-storey building housing Phoenix Garments in Tejgaon collapsed on February 25, 2006, killing more than 21 workers.

The year 2006 saw another deadly incident outside the capital. More than 65 workers were killed in a fire at KTS Composite Textile Mills in the port city of Chittagong.

Other incidents in the garment industry which made headlines globally include death of eight workers in a fire at Smart Export Garments in the capital in January 2013, death of 21 workers in a fire at Garib and Garib Garments in February 2010 and death of 20 workers in a fire at Narayanganj Sun Knitting in 2005.

There are over 5,000 readymade garment factories in the country in total.

Around 4,000 of them are members of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) that make clothes for international brands and employ about 3.5 million workers.

Bangladesh earns about $22 billion a year from garment export, accounting for over 80 percent of its annual export earnings.

Murder, not accident

Signs of collapse ignored by building owner; he vanishes after rescue; only Brac Bank responds to evacuation call

Wasim Bin Habib and Md Fazlur Rahman

A lifeless body lies in the rubble. Photo: Star
A lifeless body lies in the rubble. Photo: Star

CAN the collapse of the nine-storey building in Savar yesterday be called an accident?

Unlike any accident, which catches victims off guard, people in decision-making positions at Rana Plaza had had warning about the problems of the building a day ahead of the tragedy.

Ignoring the warning, the authorities, including the building owner Sohel Rana, decided to keep the building open for business, a decision that has cost, as of filing of this report at 2:30am, 142 lives.

Interestingly, 11 people were saved by a quick decision by the top management of Brac Bank. The bank suspended operations of a branch located on the second floor of the building.

Rana Plaza at Bazar bus stand housed five garment factories from the third to the eighth floors.

On Tuesday morning, some cracks developed on some pillars and a few floors of the building following a jolt, causing panic among the people working there. They rushed out of the building and some even got injured in the process, said a number of garment workers and locals.

The industrial police visited the building that day.

“We had asked them [the building authorities] not to open the building but suspend operations of the factories after the cracks were noticed yesterday [Tuesday], but they ignored us,” Director of Industrial Police-1 Mostafizur Rahman told The Daily Star last night.

The warnings and instructions were all ignored.

The owners of the garments closed their factories around Tuesday noon but asked the workers to show up for work the next day. Click here to read full story.


Fight for life on under debris

100 more rescued alive; ceaseless efforts on to save trapped workers

Wasim Bin Habib, Helemul Alam and Hossain Biplob

A rescued worker screams at the first sight of light after being trapped for 73 hours inside the rubble. Photo: Rahul Talukder
A rescued worker screams at the first sight of light after being trapped for 73 hours inside the rubble. Photo: Rahul Talukder

AROUND three days after the country’s worst building collapse, the hope of finding more survivors was not all gone, though a sickening stench of decaying corpses filled the air in Savar.

Some 100 people were dragged out of the wreckage yesterday.

The rescuers were relentless in their efforts as people trapped inside were alive by what could only be described as a miracle.

The death toll, meantime, rose to 315.

The rescue crews bored deeper into the rubble of the collapsed nine-storey Rana Plaza yesterday. They provided water, saline and oxygen cylinders whenever they found a survivor inside.

“We have supplied saline, torchlight and oxygen to a spot where around 24 people are still alive,” said Jashim Uddin, a rescuer.

Major General Chowdhury Hasan Sarwardi, general officer commanding of Nine Infantry Division, told reporters around noon that they could not remove the large slabs as many people were stuck inside. Their personnel made big holes to enter and bring out people, he added.

Since yesterday morning, news of more survivors spread among the relatives who gathered at Savar Bazar bus stand. For full story, click here.


Brave souls in Savar

No safety gear, no training, no proper equipment. But they have brave hearts to help the workers trapped in a mangled mess of concrete and rods

Masum Al Jaki

Volunteers go down through a dug tunnel in search of survivors. Photo: Anik Rahman
Volunteers go down through a dug tunnel in search of survivors. Photo: Anik Rahman

AS the Rana Plaza tragedy unfolded, many ordinary people joined the rescue effort. A large number of students, street vendors, garment workers and religious leaders joined hands with fire fighters, army and police.

In some cases, the unequipped civilians were seen leading the desperate operation putting their lives at risk.

They entered the building by breaking the walls, and pulled out people — dead or alive, while law enforcers were just busy controlling the crowd.

One of the brave men managed to rescue a pregnant woman alive. Another rescuer, without any medical knowledge, untangled a garment worker from the debris by cutting her leg. Click here to read about the brave souls.


Man behind 1,135 deaths captured

Rana blames it on factory owners

Staff Correspondent

Police bring Sohel Rana, owner of Rana Plaza, to Dhaka by helicopter after he was arrested while trying to flee through the Jessore border. Photo: Star
Police bring Sohel Rana, owner of Rana Plaza, to Dhaka by helicopter after he was arrested while trying to flee through the Jessore border. Photo: Star

SOHEL Rana, owner of the Savar building that collapsed on Wednesday, leaving more than 381 dead and scores injured, was arrested in Benapole, Jessore, yesterday afternoon.

Rana went to Benapole to cross the border without a passport and was hiding at a human trafficker’s house in Ball Field area, about 0.5 kilometres from the Indian border, the Rapid Action Battalion said.

As soon as the news of the arrest was announced by Minister of State Jahangir Kabir Nanak, at the collapse site in the afternoon, locals burst into cheers and chanted slogans, “Hang Rana, Hang Rana!”

People in small groups brought out jubilant processions.

After Rana was brought to Dhaka in a helicopter around 5:00pm, Rab held a press briefing at its headquarters.

Man behind 377 deaths captured“He had been hiding in different places since Wednesday. We learnt through secret sources that he was hiding in Benapole,” Rab’s Director General Mokhlesur Rahman told the media.

The elite crime buster found two bottles of Phensedyl, lungis, caps, cigarettes, medicines and oral saline in a briefcase with Rana. Read full story here.


Miracle girl

Garment worker Reshma found alive under rubble on the 17th day of Rana Plaza rescue operation

Shamim Ashraf and Belal Hossain

Reshma, who survived 17 days under the rubble, rests at a hospital after being rescued. Photo: Star
Reshma, who survived 17 days under the rubble, rests at a hospital after being rescued. Photo: Star

IT was a bright, sunny Friday afternoon. Weary of the unrelenting hours of retrieving rotting bodies from under the rubble, the rescuers seemed a bit burdened.

As they prepared to lift another big concrete slab of the first floor, a strong stench of corpses sickened the journalists standing a few yards away. Impatient, they asked the rescuers how long it would take to finish the job.

Herding the journalists, Major Moazzem Hossain asked them to follow him to the western side of the wreckage.

Standing there, a fatigued Abdur Razzak, an army warrant officer, just couldn’t believe what he saw next: a moving pipe, sticking out through a narrow hole of the first floor.

Awestruck, he screamed in joy: “Someone seems to be alive in there!”

All the weariness vanished and the rescuers raced to the point.

Miraculous as it may sound, removing the gravel they saw part of the face of a woman.

“Can you hear us? Are you okay? What’s your name?” shouted Hossain.

“Reshma,” responded a feeble voice. A little pause. “Please get me out of here. Please,” she then pleaded.

What could be a more gratifying moment than this for the rescuers who have been mingling with death since the country’s deadliest building collapse on April 24! Click here for full story.


No solace for kids of the missing

Helemul Alam and Belal Hossain Biplob

Relatives of a dead worker break into tear at the site of the tragedy. Photo: Star
Relatives of a dead worker break into tear at the site of the tragedy. Photo: Star

THOUGH the losses are irrecoverable, the families of the deceased and the injured in the Rana Plaza collapse are either getting compensated or receiving aid to start life anew. But what about the young kids whose parents are still missing after the end of the rescue drive, and therefore cannot claim any compensation, salary or seek financial help?

It is not known how many people are unaccounted for as authorities called off the rescue and search mission yesterday, 20 days after the disaster.

In most cases, these kids had single parent. So, they have become virtually orphaned and have nobody to take care of.

The father of five-year-old Sumon “disappeared” one month after his birth. Her mother took a job in the garment industry and was getting along until April 24 when the nine-storey building where her mother worked collapsed.

“Her husband did not return after leaving home one day. We could not trace him as we did not know his village home,” said Amena Begum, grandmother of Sumon.

She said her daughter was their only breadwinner as her husband could not do anything but selling milk from their domestic cows. Full story here.


Wait not over for them

One month into Savar tragedy, families of missing people still searching for their dear ones; 316 on missing list so far

Wasim Bin Habib

Inconsolable, relatives of the dead and the missing still flock to Rana Plaza despite no hope of any other survivor. Photo: Star
Inconsolable, relatives of the dead and the missing still flock to Rana Plaza despite no hope of any other survivor. Photo: Star

RELATIVES of those missing in the Rana Plaza collapse keep thronging different places in search of their loved ones, a month after the country’s deadliest industrial disaster that claimed more than 1,100 lives.

With photographs of their missing relatives in hands, some of them go to the local Upazila Nirbahi Office, others to the Savar Model Police Station and local hospitals. Yet others continue to gather every day at the collapse site with a sense of nothingness.

They knock at every possible door, wondering where else they can go to find at least the bodies for some kind of solace.

In their search efforts, relatives have so far filed 88 general diaries with Savar Model Police Station, police said.

The nine-storey Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories, a shopping mall and a bank, came crashing down on the morning of April 24, killing at least 1,127 people, mostly garment workers.

Rescuers pulled out 2,438 people alive from beneath the rubble. Around 100 of them are still taking treatment at different hospitals, some with lost limbs.

Of the dead, 291 bodies out of 302 unidentified ones were buried at Jurain graveyard, according to Savar upazila administration. Full story can be read here.


US suspends GSP for Bangladesh

Revival of GSP hinges on labour standards improvement

Arun Devnath and Refayet Ullah Mirdha

A 'sorry note' from a factory from the building tangles up in rubble. Photo: Mahmud Amin
A 'sorry note' from a factory from the building tangles up in rubble. Photo: Mahmud Amin

IN a chilling warning, the US yesterday suspended trade privileges for Bangladesh after a six-year review exposed “serious shortcomings” in safety and labour standards.

The decision will bring tariffs back on some of Bangladesh’s exports to US markets under the programme known as the Generalised System of Preferences. However, the scheme does not apply to Bangladesh’s main export: garment.

The suspension underlines the lack of progress by the government in improving factory conditions.

“I have determined that it is appropriate to suspend Bangladesh’s designation as a beneficiary developing country under the GSP programme because it is not taking steps to afford internationally recognised worker rights,” US President Barack Obama said in a message to the Congress.

The US government “has not seen sufficient progress” toward basic safety standards, despite its “close engagement and clear, repeated expressions of concern” with the Bangladesh government over the past few years, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement.

“The recent tragedies that needlessly took the lives of over 1,200 Bangladeshi garment factory workers have served to highlight some of the serious shortcomings in worker rights and workplace safety standards in Bangladesh.”

The Obama administration plans to initiate new discussions with the Bangladesh government on steps to improve the working environment so that GSP benefits can be restored and tragedies like the Rana Plaza collapse and Tazreen fire can be prevented, Froman said. “There is no particular timetable in mind.” Click here to read full story


Mozena: No blood-stained shirts, please

Star Business Report

A relative of a dead worker bursts into tears. Photo: Star
A relative of a dead worker bursts into tears. Photo: Star

US Ambassador Dan W Mozena yesterday warned Bangladesh of the far-reaching impact of factory tragedies on the nation’s trade relations with American retailers and consumers.

“America will not buy shirts stained with the blood of Bangladeshi workers,” Mozena quoted a US congressman as saying at a meeting with him.

“The message was clear and powerful,” Mozena said just a day before the GSP benefits for exports, except for garments, to the US markets comes to an end.

The Obama administration suspended the trade privileges for Bangladesh in June this year, after a six-year review exposed “serious shortcomings” in safety and labour standards.

The decision bring tariffs back on some of Bangladesh’s exports to US markets under the scheme known as the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).

On the horrific disasters of Tazreen Fashions fire and Rana Plaza building collapse, the ambassador said there simply cannot be any more such horrid disasters.

Mozena spoke at the inauguration of “Help Desk and US Product and Services Information Centre” at Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He said time has come to transform the apparel sector of Bangladesh. Click here for full story.


Traumatised, left mostly uncared for

Sohel Parvez

A rescued worker, who lost her left hand at the tragedy, lies in a hospital bed. Photo: Star
A rescued worker, who lost her left hand at the tragedy, lies in a hospital bed. Photo: Star

AT nightfall, Zulekha Begum goes to bed but quite often she does not get a full night's sleep. The traumatic scenes that unfolded before her eyes a year ago still haunt her, ghost-like.
The 30-year-old survivor of Rana Plaza collapse says the most frightening part of her dreams is when her dead colleagues come to her and blame her for not giving them water at the time of their death.
Zulekha, however, is not alone in her affliction. Some 24 percent of over 2,400 survivors and rescue workers are in the same boat as her, according to a study by ActionAid Bangladesh.
They either have difficulty sleeping or get uncontrollable fits, and not least, their phobia of multi-storey buildings, getting under concrete roofs and darkness. Several of them are hounded by the pong of dead bodies, while some randomly start to behave abnormally.
The condition has been barring them from leading normal lives and getting re-employed a year after the tragic event, the deadliest industrial accident in the nation's history. And, in the odd chance that they find work, they have to quit before  long: the haunted memories severely encumber their performance.
Unfortunately, the issue, which, psychiatrists say, can rouse suicidal tendencies, never got any attention from the government. While some international donors and nongovernmental organisations came forward to provide psychological support, the operations petered out after some time. For full story, click here.


Survived, only to suffer

Sohel Parvez and Md Fazlur Rahman

Hasu attaches an ankle-foot orthosis to the left leg of his wife Feli, one of the workers pulled out alive from the rubble of Rana Plaza last year. Photo: Star
Hasu attaches an ankle-foot orthosis to the left leg of his wife Feli, one of the workers pulled out alive from the rubble of Rana Plaza last year. Photo: Star

THIRTY-five-year-old Feli limps to her rented room from the small grocery store she opened three months ago with the help of the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP).
One of the 1,500 pulled out alive from the rubble of Rana Plaza, she has a paralysing feeling in her left leg and is unable to bend her left arm. Her physical weaknesses have left her dependent on her husband to run the store and for household chores.
Feli's husband Hasu Miah, 40, had to quit his job as a caretaker at a house nearby to take care of his wife and 11-year-old daughter. The family's financial hardships have deepened as their monthly income has dropped to a third of Tk 18,000 that they earned collectively a year before.
“It has been two months that we cannot pay rent for our home and the grocery shop. Our daughter's school fees are also due,” said an ailing Feli, who has no surname.
She had been trapped under a broken roof and beam for three days before she was rescued.
One year has passed since the deadliest apparel industry disaster in Savar on April 24 last year that killed over 1,134 workers and left nearly 2,000 injured. The families that had migrated from their rural homes in the hope of a better life are struggling to make ends meet. Click here for full story.


Supervising Editor: Inam Ahmed

Editor: Shamim Ashraf

Copyediting: Shamim Ashraf, Moyukh Mahtab

Photographs: Moyukh Mahtab, Rashad Ahmed

Photo contributors: Abu Syeed Sumon, Anamika Chowdhury, Anik Rahman, Aninda Kabir Avik, Ismail Ferdous, Israr Zayan, Jewel Paul, Mahmud Amin, Mohiuddin Saifullah Shuvro, Rahul Talukder, Sakib Chaklader, Sharifuzzaman Ripon, Tasfiq Mahmood

Videos: Moyukh Mahtab, Fardaus Mobarok

Photo and Video Editing: Moyukh Mahtab, Sam Jahan, Patrick DeSutter

Research: Sam Jahan, Zaid Bin Kalam

Design and development: MH Sunny