Bangladesh Building Collapse Death Toll Reaches 1,000

The death toll from the collapse of a garment-factory building in Bangladesh two weeks ago has risen to 1,000 while a fire at a clothing factory in Dhaka killed at least eight.

The new toll at the Rana Plaza complex was confirmed today over the telephone by Shahnewaz Mohammad Golam Zakaria, an army captain in a control room supervising the rescue operation.

Garment factories in Bangladesh are facing increased scrutiny after the collapse at Rana Plaza, the country’s worst industrial disaster, and a November fire that claimed 112 lives. Last month’s tragedy prompted the government to shut factories and an overseas retailer to stop accepting clothing from the country.

The latest fire broke out at Tung Hai Sweaters Ltd., killing the owner of the factory, according to Nazrul Islam, a spokesman for the Bangladesh Fire Service. The company’s executives were having a meeting and there were no workers inside as the plant was closed for the night, according to police inspector F.M. Kawsar Ahmed.

The fire started on the second floor of an 11-story building, where the Tung Hai Sweaters factory is located, said Ataur Rahman, a duty officer for Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence. The flames spread fast as the factory produced sweaters and stored raw materials that were highly combustible, he said.

Smoke Inhalation

Those killed were on the building’s upper floors and died from smoke inhalation, according to Rahman, who said officials are investigating the cause of the fire. Mahbubur Rahman, managing director of Tung Hai Sweaters, was among those who died, according to Appolo Hospitals manager Mafizul Islam.

The company’s parent, Tung Hai Group, was established in 1994 and has 7,000 employees, according to its website. The group makes knitted sweaters, t-shirts, polo shirts, tank tops, fleece, pajamas and children’s wear. Tung Hai Group has three manufacturing sites in Bangladesh and has annual sales of more than $50 million.

Recurrent industrial disasters in the garment industry as well as continued political tensions are “credit negative” for Bangladesh because they may further damage investor confidence in the country, Moody’s Corp. said yesterday in a statement. The industry accounts for 80 percent of the country’s total exports and employs more than 3 million people, Moody’s said.

Workers’ Rights

The Bangladesh government, workers, employers and the International Labour Organization agreed to a plan to improve workers’ rights and safety. The 27-nation European Union is considering action under its trade rules to encourage changes in supply-chain operations.

Two factories in Chittagong and 16 in the capital Dhaka were ordered to shut operations, and the government will close any plant that’s found to be unsafe during inspections, Abdul Latif Siddique, minister for textiles, said earlier this week.

Retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., along with labor activists, have been considering an agreement to improve factory safety in Bangladesh for at least two years. Walt Disney Co., the world’s largest entertainment company, removed Bangladesh in March from a list of countries where partners can produce clothing and merchandise, according to a letter to licensees.

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