290 dead as high street fashion chains told to put lives before profits after Bangladeshi factory collapse

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Death toll passes 290 as staff describe how they were ordered to continue production despite raising concerns over huge cracks in the eight-storey structure

Pressure is mounting on high street retailers and leading brands to put lives ahead of profits and safeguard Bangladeshi factory workers as the death toll from the collapse of a building housing clothing manufacturers passed 290.

Click here to see more photos

The factories supplied Britain's Primark and Matalan, as well as Spain's Mango, whilst C&A said it had previous links to one of the contractors.

Tonight rescuers located 40 survivors stranded in the rubble at Savar, near Dhaka, as staff described how they were ordered to continue production despite raising concerns over huge cracks in the eight-storey structure.

US supermarket giant Wall-Mart was also on the factory's clients' list although it has not confirmed this. UK company Premier Clothing said it used suppliers on the sixth and seventh floor of the building.

Hundreds more people are believed to have been injured in the disaster which comes six months after a fire at a Dhaka clothes factory left 112 people dead when emergency exits were blocked. The incident highlighted the dangers in an industry that reportedly accounts for 80 per cent of the country's exports and employs three million workers earning an average of 12p an hour, campaigners say.

According to the Associated Press, among those trapped was Mohammad Altab who lay pinned tightly between two concrete slabs. Next to him lay two corpses. "Save us brother. I beg you brother. I want to live," he moaned. "It's so painful here... I have two little children."

The cracks in the Rana Plaza building were discovered on Tuesday and were reported on the local television news. Staff from a bank that is housed in the same building were evacuated. However, bosses at the five clothing companies told their 3,000 employees to report for duty as normal. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association claimed it had asked the factories to suspend work starting on Wednesday morning, hours before the collapse.

"After we got the crack reports, we asked them to suspend work until further examination, but they did not pay heed," said Atiqul Islam, the group's president. It was reported that some of the floors on the building had been illegally built.

Laia Blanch of British charity War on Want urged the UK government to intervene. "It is unacceptable that UK firms continue to make huge profits from garments produced under appalling health and safety conditions," she said. Oxfam said the collapse highlighted the vulnerability of many buildings in densely-populated Dhaka, a city that sits on two seismic fault- lines.Speaking from Dhaka, Gareth Price-Jones said many retailers already claimed that ethical working practices were in place but in reality were often not enforced.

He said companies needed to change the working culture of factories in Bangladesh, where profit margins come before safety. He said this could be done at little cost.

"It can be as simple as changing the culture. The only reason there were workers in that building was because management told them they would be docked pay if they did not go to work," he said. Mr Price-Jones said consumers had the power to "hold brands to account".

An action plan by the Bangladeshi government following last year's tragedy has done little to improve conditions, Scott Nova of the Washington-based Workers Rights Consortium said.

Campaigners are urging companies to sign up instead to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement (BFBSA) which would require signatories to fit out their suppliers' premises to full safety standards. So far only PVH, owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and German retailer Tchibo have signed up. Mr Nova said it was estimated regulation would add 6p to the cost of an item of clothing.

"Change will only happen when major brands and retailers including those in the UK say that there is such a risk to their reputations that they will finally take the step of protecting the lives of their workers. This is not an industry driven by moral considerations but the bottom line," he said.

Unions claim that 700 garment workers have died in the past 10 years during which time wages have declined for the predominantly female workforce by 2.37 per cent. Primark said it had been working for several years with NGOs and other retailers to "review the Bangladeshi industry's approach to factory standards." It said it would now "push for this review to also include building integrity."

A spokesman for Premier Clothing said: "We were shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the terrible tragedy… Our thoughts are with the victims and their families."

Mango said it had only discussed production of a test sample of clothing with one of the factories. Matalan meanwhile said it had not used New Wave since February when it had switched production for commercial reasons. Primark, is a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative designed to promote safety standards through the supply chain. It is calling for a collaborative approach between retailers and suppliers.

But Sam Maher of the group Labour Behind the Label, said: "It's unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing."

The Bangladeshi Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir said the building had violated construction codes and that "the culprits would be punished."

The building owner has been ordered to appear before Bangladesh's High Court next week alongside the top management of the factories.

Timeline: Factory disasters

25 Nov 2000 A fire at the Sagar Chowdhury Garment Factory in Narsingdi, 35 miles from Dhaka, kills 52 people, including children. A locked gate stops them escaping.

11 Apr 2005 Sixty-four people are killed when the Spectrum factory near Dhaka collapses. The disaster is blamed on illegal construction.

25 Feb 2010 A fire kills 21 workers at Garib & Garib Newaj factory in Gazipur, which supplies H&M.

14 Dec 2010 A fire at the That's It Sports Wear factory in Dhaka kills 29. Its customers include GAP.

24 Nov 2012 A fire at the Tazreen Fashions factory near Dhaka kills 112. US rapper and producer Sean Combs is among its Western customers with his ENYCE label.

26 Jan 2013 Eight workers die in a fire at the Smart Fashions factory in Dhaka. Brands found in the wreckage include Bershka and Lefties (Inditex), KIK and New Look.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game