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Meanwhile, thousands of workers from the hundreds of garment factories across the Savar industrial zone took to the streets to protest the collapse and poor safety standards.
Shikder said the death toll had reached 275 by Friday morning. The garment manufacturers’ group said the factories in the building employed 3,122 workers, but it was not clear how many were inside it when it collapsed.
Dozens of bodies, their faces covered, were laid outside a school building so relatives could identify them. Thousands gathered outside the building, waiting for news. TV reports said hundreds of protesters clashed with police in Dhaka and the nearby industrial zone of Ashulia. It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries in those clashes.
After the November fire at the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. factory, there were repeated calls for improved safety standards by labor activists, manufacturers, the government and major retailers, but little progress.
The building collapse highlighted the dangers that workers still face. Bangladesh has about 4,000 garment factories and exports clothes to leading Western retailers, and industry leaders hold great influence in the South Asian nation.
Its garment industry was the third largest in the world in 2011, after China and Italy. It has grown rapidly in the past decade, a boom fueled by Bangladesh’s exceptionally low labor costs. The country’s minimum wage is now the equivalent of about $38 a month.
Officials said soon after the collapse that numerous construction regulations had been violated.
Abdul Halim, an official with Savar’s engineering department, said the owner of Rana Plaza was originally allowed to construct a five-story building but added another three stories illegally.
On a visit to the site, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters the building had violated construction codes and that "the culprits would be punished." Local police chief Mohammed Asaduzzaman said police and the government’s Capital Development Authority have filed separate cases of negligence against the building’s owner.
But on the streets of Dhaka, many believe the owners of the building and the factories will ultimately walk free.
"Was anyone punished earlier? Was the owner of Tazreen Fashions arrested? They are powerful people, they run the country," said Farid Ahmed, an insurance company official.
The Tazreen factory that burned in November lacked emergency exits, and its owner said only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built. Surviving employees said gates had been locked and managers had told them to go back to work after the fire alarm sounded.
Habibur Rahman, police superintendent of the Dhaka district, identified the owner of the collapsed building as Mohammed Sohel Rana, a local leader of ruling Awami League’s youth front. Rahman said police were also looking for the owners of the garment factories.
Among the garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms. Altogether, they produced several million shirts, pants and other garments a year.
The New Wave companies, according to their website, make clothing for major brands including North American retailers The Children’s Place and Dress Barn, Britain’s Primark, Spain’s Mango and Italy’s Benetton. Ether Tex said Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, was one of its customers.
Wal-Mart said none of its clothing had been authorized to be made in the facility, but it is investigating whether there was any unauthorized production.
The Cato Corp., which sells moderately priced women’s and girls’ clothing, said that New Wave Bottoms was one of its vendors, but that it had no production with them at the time of the collapse.
Primark acknowledged it was using a factory in Rana Plaza, but many other retailers distanced themselves from the disaster, saying they were not involved with the factories at the time of the collapse or had not recently ordered garments from them.
Benetton said in an email to the AP that people involved in the collapse were not Benetton suppliers. Mango said it had only discussed production of a test sample of clothing with one of the factories.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the collapse underscored the "urgent need" for the Bangladesh government, as well as the factory owners, buyers and labor groups, to improve working conditions in the country.
Highlighting failings in the patchwork system that retailers use to audit factories, two of Rana Plaza’s garment companies had passed inspections by a major European group that does factory audits in developing countries. But the Business Social Compliance Initiative, which represents hundreds of companies and audited the Phantom Apparels and New Wave Style factories, said its standards focus more on labor issues than building standards.Next Page >
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