Bangladesh mourns anniversary of garment factory disaster

Survivors and relatives of victims of a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh marched Friday

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Survivors and relatives of victims of a garment factory collapse in Bangladesh marched Friday to demand better compensation on the second anniversary of the disaster that killed more than 1,100 people.

Rana Plaza, an illegally constructed building outside Dhaka, housed five garment factories when it collapsed in 2013. The accident was Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster.

Activists joined the march as relatives laid flowers at a memorial built at the site of the collapse, which killed 1,127 people and injuring about 2,500.

Sofura Khatun, whose daughter Rasheda Begum was killed in the accident, wept as she remembered the tragedy.

“The day my daughter died, her father suffered a stroke,” she said. “He has been severely ill for the last two years. Now I am helpless. I have no one to support me.”

Investigators say a host of factors contributed to the eight-story building’s collapse. It was overloaded with machines and generators, constructed on swampy land, and the owner added floors in violation of the original building plan.

Bangladesh has been under pressure to improve conditions in its garment industry since the disaster. The country has 5,000 garment factories and 4 million garment workers. It earns more than $20 billion a year from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe.

Earlier this week the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said the government is not doing enough to protect workers from assault, intimidation and other abuses common in the industry.

Survivors and relatives of those who died say they still haven’t received adequate compensation. Of the estimated $30 million needed for a Rana Plaza Trust Fund, about $21 million had been paid or pledged as of last month, Human Rights Watch said.

Many workers who died were the only bread winners for their families and many who survived were injured so badly that they have been unable to find new jobs.

The owner of Rana Plaza, Sohel Rana, was arrested days after the accident but his case has dragged on for the last two years.

Moshrefu Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, said those responsible for the disaster must be brought to justice and compensation must be paid fairly and quickly.

“This is utterly a shame. Today, standing here, we reiterate the demand that the killers must be hanged. We want to see them get punished,” she said.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael B.G. Froman said in a statement that the United States and European Union have pushed the Bangladesh government for reforms to ensure that Rana Plaza will not be repeated and to protect the rights of workers.

“While progress has been made as a consequence of these efforts, a great deal remains to be done — especially with regard to addressing violence against labor union activists, reforming labor laws, and completing and following-up on factory inspections,” he said.

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