UK

Search For Rana Plaza Survivors Ends As Zara And Primark Pledge New Safety Law

14/05/2013 13:12 BST | Updated 14/05/2013 16:05 BST

Bangladeshi rescue workers have said no more victims of the deadly factory collapse remain buried under the rubble, and have called off their search, as companies and the country's government pledged to do more to prevent further tragedy.

After 20 days of constant searching of the ruins of Rana Plaza in Dhaka, no more bodies can be found.

No-one know how many were inside the eight-storey building when it collapsed, but at least 98 people are still missing, according to CNN.

Last week, a woman, Reshma Begum, was pulled alive from the wreckage 17 days after the building collapsed.

bangladesh factory rana plaza

Bangladeshi garment workers employed at Rana Plaza, the garment factory building that collapsed, stand in a queue to receive wages from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association

More than 230 bodies, of more than 1,000 believed to have died in the disaster, are still lying in the makeshift morgue, unclaimed by any family. There are body parts, severed heads and limbs, which have also never been identified.

The Bangladeshi military is now expected to hand over the site to the district administration on Tuesday.

Many Bangladeshi textile factories have shut because of worker unrest, the country's textile association told the BBC, with employees threatening to riot over safety concerns.

"Owners decided to close their factories on safety grounds after workers went on a rampage almost every day after the collapse of Rana Plaza," said Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

On Monday, the Bangladeshi government agreed to a new law which will allow garment workers to form trade unions without permission from factory owners.

"The issue is not really about making a new law or amending the old one,'' Kalpana Akter of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity told the Associated Press.

"In the past whenever workers tried to form associations they were subjected to beatings and harassment."

As the rescue workers departed the scene, British and European retailers have now pledged their commitment to a new safety accord in Bangladesh, with signatories including Primark, Zara, H&M, Inditex and C&A.

It requires that all the supplier factories conduct electrical assessments in their factories and share costs with them.

The legally-binding accord includes and obligation for independent safety inspections with public reports, mandatory repairs and renovations, the obligation by brands and retailers to underwrite the costs and to terminate business with any factory that refuses to make necessary safety upgrades, and a vital role for workers and their unions.

"Our strong presence in Bangladesh gives us the opportunity to contribute to the improvement of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and contribute to the community's development," H&M head of sustainability Helena Helmersson said.

"By being on site, put demands on manufacturers and work for continuous improvements, we can slowly but surely contribute to lasting changes."

American clothing company Gap has refused to sign the pledge, and campaigners have set up a "GapDeathTraps" website, to put pressure on the company to sign the accord.

“We’re pleased that an accord is within reach, and Gap Inc. is ready to sign on today with a modification to a single area – how disputes are resolved in the courts,” said Eva Sage-Gavin, executive vice president of global human resources and corporate affairs said in a statement.

Ruth Tanner, campaigns and policy director at the anti-poverty charity War on Want, said: “Thanks to global campaigns led by labour organisations and supported by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, Primark has followed H&M and Zara’s Inditex by signing up to the Bangladesh Safety Accord.

“This is a crucial victory in the fight for companies to take responsibility for the workers who make our clothes.

“Safe working conditions for garment workers must be assured. A tragedy like the Rana Plaza disaster cannot happen again.”

Labour Behind the Label told HuffPost UK it was "monumental news" that the new Accord would be signed. The charity's director Sam Maher said: “At the heart of the agreement is the commitment by companies to pay for the renovations and repairs necessary to make factory buildings in Bangladesh safe”.

“With 1,250 workers killed in the last six months in Bangladesh, it is now time for companies to move beyond vague promises, business-as-usual self-regulatory schemes and rhetoric, and to sign a binding safety agreement that can finally bring an end to the horror in Bangladesh.

"More than one million global consumers have signed petitions calling brands to take action: All brands should now sign.”

Woman found alive in Bangladesh rubble 17 days after collapse

Woman found alive in Bangladesh rubble 17 days after collapse