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900 Still Missing Among Rubble as Fires Break Out in Bangladesh

Big business still on the lam as factory owners are arrested

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Update:

Rescue workers toil through the night to find garment workers trapped in the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh. (Photo: Andrew Biraj/ Reuters) The Associated Press is reporting that a fire has broken out in the rubble of the collapsed Bangladesh factory, forcing rescue efforts to stop. They continue:

Officials say the fire broke out because of sparks generated as rescuers tried to cut through a steel rod to reach a survivor. Firefighters are trying to bring the fire under control.

Rescuers have retreated from the part of the wreckage where the fire was located, but were still trying to reach survivors in other parts of the destroyed eight-story building.

Earlier:

Numerous arrests have been made over the weekend in Bangladesh following the building collapse that has killed over 350 people with hundreds still missing. However, the truly guilty parties—the big garment producers and their overseas customers—remain beyond reproach and guilt-free.

Friday evening the owner and managing director of New Wave Style, the largest of the five factories in the collapsed Rana Plaza building, surrendered to the police and two engineers involved in designing the complex were arrested at their homes Saturday.

A third factory owner, Mohammed Sohel Rana, was arrested in the border town of Benapole Sunday while attempting to flee to India, Reuters reports.

All are accused of repeatedly ignoring warnings about the safety of the factory complex, particularly after cracks were spotted Tuesday, and forcing their employees to continue working.

However, as the death toll mounts to 372 and rescuers fight time to reach the 900 individuals still missing in the rubble, those at the top of the chain of fault continue to shirk culpability.

In this "landscape of globalization" where workers "are submitted to the imperatives of just-in-time production," it is ultimately the names which will eventually be affixed to the hastily-made articles who are truly at fault.

Explaining how the globalized, industrial system is designed to ultimately protect big industry, Professor Vijay Prashad writes how poorer nations, such as Bangladesh, China, Mexico, Haiti and Sri Lanka, rushed to "open their doors" to garment production.

The big garment producers no longer wanted to invest in factories – they turned to sub-contractors, offering them very narrow margins for profit and thereby forcing them to run their factories like prison-houses of labour. The sub-contracting regime allowed these firms to deny any culpability for what was done by the actual owners of these small factories, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of the cheap products without having their consciences stained with the sweat and blood of the workers.

At the time of the collapse, the five Rana Plaza factories were making clothing for a number of brands including Benetton, Primark, Loblaws, The Children's Place and Dress Barn, and had previously been sub-contracted to produce for Walmart.

Many are heralding the arrests as evidence of some measure of justice. Reportedly an "alliance of leftwing parties" had threatened a national strike on May 2 if "all those responsible" were not arrested by Sunday. 

About 2,500 people have been rescued thus far from the wrecked building. Four people were pulled out alive Sunday as rescuers worked "frantically to save several others trapped under the mound of broken concrete and metal" though the operation coordinator, Major General Chowdhury Hassan Sohrawardi, acknowledged that, "The chances of finding people alive are dimming, so we have to step up our rescue operation to save any valuable life we can."

Authorities are still investigating the details behind the collapse. Reuters reports:

Emdadul Islam, chief engineer of the state-run Capital Development Authority (CDA), said on Friday that the owner of the building had not received the proper construction consent, obtaining a permit for a five-story building from the local municipality, which did not have the authority to grant it.

Furthermore, another three stories had been added illegally, he said. "Savar is not an industrial zone, and for that reason no factory can be housed in Rana Plaza," Islam told Reuters.

Islam said the building had been erected on the site of a pond filled in with sand and earth, weakening the foundations.

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