At least 149 people were killed and hundreds more injured after an eight-storey building housing garment factories supplying the budget clothing store Primark and other UK brands collapsed in Bangladesh.
The owner of the building on the outskirts of Dhaka had reportedly told workers the premises were safe despite the appearance of large cracks.
In the latest incident to rock the dangerous, unregulated garment industry that produces clothes for Western consumers, rescue workers were left scrambling through piles of rubble and debris after the building collapsed this morning.
The Associated Press reported that workers at the Rana Plaza building claimed that on Tuesday they had pointed out severe cracks – so serious they had been reported on Bangladeshi television. But they said the factory manager said there was no problem so they went inside and started work.
“We started working. After about an hour or so the building collapsed suddenly,” said Abdur Rahim, who was knocked unconscious and next came around amid the debris. Other reports suggest workers were threatened they would lose their jobs if they did not work.
A spokesperson for Primark said the company is “shocked and deeply saddened by this appalling incident at Savar, near Dhaka, and expresses its condolences to all of those involved”.
In the statement, Primark confirmed that “one of its suppliers occupied the second floor of the eight-storey building, which housed several suppliers to the garment industry making clothing for a number of brands”.
The clothing firm said it “has been engaged for several years with NGOs and other retailers to review the Bangladeshi industry’s approach to factory standards” and vowed to “push for this review to also include building integrity”.
A number of other household names, including UK brands, were said to have used suppliers in the building.
The collapse of the building in the Savar neighbourhood comes six months after a fire at a Dhaka garment factory that left 112 people dead when management blocked emergency exits. The incident highlighted the dangers in an industry that reportedly accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s exports.
It is understood that anywhere up to 2,000 people were in the Savar building at the time of the collapse. Afterwards, tens of thousands of people gathered close to the rubble where limbs and corpses could reportedly be seen in the debris.
Many were searching for loved ones still missing or else trapped beneath the rubble. Firefighters and soldiers using drilling machines and cranes worked together with local volunteers in the search for other survivors.
The chairman of the Ether Tex Ltd factory, who claimed he produces clothes for Walmart, said he was unaware of any warnings not to open the workshops.
“There were some cracks at the second floor, but my factory was on the fifth floor,” Muhammad Anisur Rahman told Reuters. “The owner of the building told our floor manager that it is not a problem and so you can open the factory.”
The injured were taken to the Enam Medical College and Hospital.
Last November’s fire at the Tazreen garment factory drew attention to the conditions of workers in anywhere up to 4,000 garment factories in the country. They can earn as little as £24 a month.