As the body count following the collapse Wednesday of a large industrial building in Bangladesh reaches nearly 250 garment industry workers, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets Thursday to protest against the gross "negligence" of multinational corporations who "continue to make huge profits" at the risk of workers' lives and health.
"Grief turned to anger," reports the New Strait Times, "as the workers, some carrying sticks, blockaded key highways in at least three industrial areas just outside the capital Dhaka, forcing factory owners to declare a day’s holiday."
After walking off the job, many of the demonstrators marched to the Dhaka headquarters of the main manufacturers association, demanding the owners of the collapsed factories be punished.
Abdul Baten, police chief of Gazipur district where many of the large garment factories are based, estimated that the crowd swelled to "hundreds of thousands."
Local media reports that rescue workers continue to search the rubble for additional casualties and survivors. Over 1000 people were injured and over 247 killed when the building—which housed five garment factories making clothes for a number of western brands including, previously, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, and Europe's C&A—collapsed.
Decrying the greed of multinational corporations who continue to abuse international workers in the name of profit, international workers' rights groups are demanding that the western brands and Bangladeshi garment bosses behind the disaster provide "proper medical treatment" and "urgent financial support for the workers and bereaved families," as well as an "independent probe that will bring to justice those responsible for the alleged negligence."
"Multinational corporations, factory owners and the Bangladeshi government have once again failed to ensure that the health and safety of garment workers are at the forefront of the country's main export sector," declared War on Want senior programs officer, Laia Blanch.
She added that it is unacceptable that these multinationals "continue to make huge profits from garments produced under appalling health and safety conditions."
"This negligence must stop," seconded Amirul Haque Amin, president the National Garment Workers' Federation in Bangladesh. "The deaths of these workers could have been avoided if multinational corporations, governments and factory owners took workers’ protection seriously. Instead, the victims' families must with live with the terrible consequences of this tragedy.”
Speaking on Democracy Now! Thursday morning, Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights said:
Bangladesh is sacrificing all these young women who have just been brutalized [with] starvation wages. There's no right to organize in Bangladesh, there's no unions with collective contracts. Every time the workers try to organize they are beaten. [...] Something has to change and the labels, you know Walmart, they'll pay nine cents for a garment and that's all they care about. This is completely out of control.
Ahead of the disaster, workers expressed concern about the building's safety after cracks appeared in the walls Tuesday, survivors told CNN. However, factory owners told them the building was safe and ordered them to return to work though the bank.
"The fact is we don't know yet how many people were killed actually ... but I can tell you the building was not built in compliance with the (safety) rules and regulations," Home Minister Mahiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters Wednesday. He added that "the culprits would be punished".
You can view Thursday's interview with Kernaghan and Bangladesh survivors of the Tazreen factory fire below.