On April 23, police noticed deep cracks in a busy Bangladeshi garment factory and ordered it evacuated. Instead, officials at the factories operating inside the building ignored the order and kept more than 2,000 people working inside. As a result, when the building collapsed on April 24, thousands were trapped and hundreds were killed.
The disaster occurred in Savar, a suburb of Bangladesh's capital city. Companies operating within the building counted Wal-Mart, Dress Barn, The Children's Place, Mango, Benetton and Primark among their customers.
After the cracks were reported, managers of a bank operating in the building evacuated their employees; the garment factories, however, ordered their employees to keep working, against the orders of local industrial police. In fact, employees who expressed concerns about the cracks were reassured by factory managers that the building was safe. Its collapse the next day proved just how wrong that statement was.
According to the regional Bangladeshi military, search and rescue operations will continue at least until April 27. By the evening of April 25, the death toll had reached 238.
The building collapse highlights the dangers faced by factory workers in the country. Bangladesh has about 4,000 garment factories, making it the third largest garment industry in the world, after China and Italy. It has grown rapidly because of its sub-standard wages—minimum wage now pays about $38/month.
Clearly, worker safety is not foremost on the minds of Bangladeshi factory operators. In November 2012, a Tazreen factory fire that killed over 100 workers was exacerbated by the fact that the building lacked emergency exits, and only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built. Even more horrifying are reports from the surviving employees saying that gates were locked and people were ordered back to work after the fire alarm sounded.
The personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin wonder how many people must die before American companies take responsibility for the people with whom they do business. We hope they will soon join us in demanding safer working conditions for employees around the world.