Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday
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Dhaka police are questioning Rana plaza owner Sohel Rana about gun licence, and have arrested structural engineer
Rescue workers combing through the rubble of the factory complex that collapsed in Bangladesh killing more than 500 people have found a pistol belonging to the building’s owner.
Dhaka police say that Sohel Rana has accepted that the weapon belonged to him. They are investigating whether he had a licence to own the weapon. The discovery did nothing to improve the public image of Rana, now portrayed as a gangster figure able to use his power to circumvent building regulations.
There have already been accusations that he muscled out competitors and illegally grabbed the land on which the Rana Plaza stood before its collapse.
Detectives are continuing to investigate Rana’s background and have also arrested the structural engineer, Abdur Razzak, previously credited with raising the alarm about the danger of collapse. Detectives are investigating his role in advising Rana on adding three storeys to the building; their weight is one of the main suspected causes of the collapse. Razzak was said to have been alarmed by cracks which appeared the day before the collapse, but Rana and some factory owners are understood to have claimed he told them it was safe for the building to remain open.
Yesterday the death toll from the collapse had risen to 551, with fears that there may still be a large number of bodies under the structure. Workers pulled 19 bodies from the rubble on Saturday morning, the 11th day of the rescue operation, having recovered 80 the day before.
Meanwhile, western brands are facing mounting pressure to improve working conditions. Leading UK brands have been urged to sign up to the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement, which provides for independent structural inspections of factory buildings, with the reports to be made public. But so far only two groups have done so, the US-based PVH which owns Calvin Klein and Timberland, and German retailer Tchibo.
UK brands say they are following the lead of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which is instead supporting a Bangladeshi government national action plan launched in March. That plan does not involve structural inspections, although the government has ordered factories to produce building certificates within a month.
The textile industry is worth £13 billion a year to the Bangladeshi economy and companies there are desperate to persuade Western brands to stay, despite concerns over safety in factories where hundreds of people have died in fires and collapses in recent years.
The Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association has promised action to prevent a repeat of the Rana Plaza disaster and urged brands not to cancel orders.
Disney, however, has announced that it is halting all production in the country by the end of March next year. Other major brands met in Germany on Monday to discuss what could be done to improve factory safety in Bangladesh.
A statement issued on Thursday from the ETI – whose members include Primark, M&S and Walmart – said that UK retailers would take a common approach to fire and building safety. They would improve factories to an agreed minimum standard and would strengthen the role of health and safety committees in unsafe factories.
ETI director Peter McAllister said: “We are appalled by the recent factory fire tragedies, and last week’s deplorable Savar building collapse. Together with our company, trade union and NGO members, we are committed to driving real, sustainable change for workers by tackling the chronic, widespread health and safety issues that plague Bangladesh’s garment sector.”
But Bangladesh’s Finance Minister, AMA Muhith, did little to boost confidence in change when he dismissed the collapse during a visit to Delhi, saying: “The present difficulties … well, I don’t think it is really serious – it’s an accident. And the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all.”
The country’s home minister, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, struck a more aggressive note on Friday when he warned more arrests could follow. ”This is a case of sheer negligence and sheer arrogance,” Alamgir said in an interview. “Arrogance on the part of the owner and negligence by the engineers and the local government authorities.”
Primark, which acknowledged that it bought from a factory in the collapsed building, has urged other brands which used it to join it in offering financial assistance to the families of victims.
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