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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Owner

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - £17,000 Basic, OTE Uncapped

£17000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company are looking for a S...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate