Study: 6 in 10 Bangladeshi Factories at Risk of Collapse

Luke Brinker

The Guardian reports that engineers from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) examined 100 of 600 factory buildings in Bangladesh, where the April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory killed 1,127 workers. Almost two-thirds of buildings surveyed were at risk of collapse, the paper reports: "Somewhere around 60 percent of the buildings are vulnerable," said professor Mehedi Ansary, who leads the team. "This doesn't mean they will collapse in the next week or month, but it does mean that to leave them unchanged would be irresponsible." Managers ignored warning signs such as cracks, which appeared in the days before the Rana Plaza collapse on 24 April, a nine-storey building in the suburb of Savar. Workers said they were told there was no cause for worry and that they should get back to work. The BUET team is conducting a visual survey of buildings housing workshops, as well as examining soil tests and original plans. There are more than 3,000 active factories – though permits have been given for more than 5,000 – which are housed in around 600 buildings. Many, particularly those in the centre of Dhaka, have been converted from residences or offices. Moreover, the Guardian’s reporters discovered stark violations of safety during a recent visit to a garment factory in the country’s capital: Last weekend, the Guardian visited a five-storey Dhaka factory, where more than 400 workers in tightly packed lines stitched and packed fleece winter jackets for sale in Europe. A single narrow stairwell was obstructed by piled cardboard boxes, windows were barred and an external fire exit had been removed. On the first floor an industrial boiler was separated from piles of card and clothes by a thin partition wall. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothes supplier, and more than 80 percent of the clothes manufactured there are exported to Europe and the United States. International pressure after the Rana Plaza collapse led 40 mostly European retailers to back the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, but a number of prominent retailers, including Wal-Mart and Gap, refused to sign the agreement. Those companies have announced plans to formulate their own safety reform proposals, highlighting the lack of a cohesive response to workplace safety concerns in Bangladesh.

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