Updated: 05/07/2013 00:23 | By Agence France-Presse

Bangladesh to inspect factories as toll passes 660

Bangladesh on Monday announced a new high-level panel to inspect thousands of garment factories for building flaws as the death toll from the nation's worst industrial disaster surpassed 660.


Bangladesh to inspect factories as toll passes 660

A woman grieves at a graveyard for victims of the garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh on May 1, 2013. Bangladesh on Monday announced a new high-level panel to inspect thousands of garment factories for building flaws as the death toll from the nation's worst industrial disaster surpassed 660.

The move comes days after Bangladesh agreed with the International Labour Organisation to give safety "the highest consideration" amid government fears Western garment firms might source goods elsewhere over worries about accidents.

The government formed a panel led by the labour minister to inspect garment plants to avert more disasters like the April 24 collapse of a factory complex near the capital Dhaka which created a serious image crisis for Bangladesh.

"They (the panel) will inspect all the garment factories either themselves or through subcommittees in an effort to ensure safety measures and labour welfare," Cabinet Secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told AFP.

The government made a similar announcement after a devastating fire swept a garment factory in November last year, killing 111 workers, but subsequent inspections were widely derided as insufficient.

The government at the weekend in a joint statement with the International Labour Organisation and factory owners promised to submit to the next parliamentary session expected in June a new labour law reform package.

The government promised the package would allow "the right to collective bargaining" and provide for "occupational safety and health". It also said it would hire more building inspectors.

Meanwhile, Major Manzur Elahi of the army control room coordinating the search for victims in the latest incident told AFP that the "death toll now stands at 664" and could rise further.

The building, which housed five garment factories, collapsed at Savar on Dhaka's outskirts April 24, trapping over 3,000 people who were making clothing for Western retailers such as Primark, Benetton and Mango.

Some 2,437 people have been rescued, Elahi said.

Distraught relatives still looking for missing loved ones massed at the site as cranes lifted pieces of the mangled mountain of concrete and steel.

Officials said decomposition was delaying identification of many bodies and they were using mobile phones discovered in pockets or factory identity cards to learn names.

Mohammad Jashim, 25, found the body of his "mother-like" sister Jakiya Begum, after 12 excruciating days of visits to hospitals and mortuaries.

"She had became almost a skeleton. We recognised her only by the factory identity card around her neck," he told AFP, calling the death of the woman who raised him a "big loss"

The stench from bodies still under the rubble forced army and fire services search teams to wear masks and use fresheners.

A preliminary government probe blamed vibrations of giant generators combined with vibrations of sewing machines for the building's collapse.

Police have arrested 12 people including the complex's proprietor Sohel Rana and four garment factory owners for forcing people to work on the day of the accident, even though cracks appeared in the structure the previous day.

Factory workers have held protests calling for tough punishment for those responsible and stronger safety regulations.

Bangladesh is the world's second-largest garment exporter after China and the industry accounts for over 40 percent of its industrial workforce and 80 percent of the nation's exports.

Even before the latest disaster, the garment industry was under a cloud from strikes by government and anti-government supporters and months of violence between Islamist hardliners and police in the officially secular Muslim-majority nation.

On Monday, police broke up a protest by tens of thousands of demonstrators as 37 people died in some of the fiercest street violence

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