The collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar, near Dhaka

The collapsed Rana Plaza building in Savar, near Dhaka

An eight-storey commercial building that housed five garment factories collapsed near the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka today (24 April), killing more than 86 people - most of them apparel workers - and leaving several hundred others injured.

Rescuers fear the death toll will rise as an unknown number of people remain trapped in the debris.

The Rana Plaza building in Savar, about 30 kilometres outside Dhaka, housed factories and a mall. It collapsed at about 9:00am (local time) after being sealed off on Tuesday evening when several cracks appeared on the third floor.

Several workers who escaped unhurt told reporters the factory owners threatened they would not be paid if they did not return to work.

The factories based in the building are Ether Tex, New Wave Bottoms, New Wave Style, Phantom Apparels and Phantom Tex.

While the duty officer at the local police station said garment workers and shop workers at Rana Plaza were among the recovered bodies, Firoz Kabir, Savar Upazila (sub-district) chairman, told just-style 90% of the dead were garment workers, and tha m than 3,000 workers were employed at the five ready-made garment (RMG) units.

The latest factory disaster comes eight years after the collapse of Spectrum Garments in Baipail in Savar, which left 64 workers dead.

Separately, activists said labels linking major European retailers to the latest tragedy were found in the ruins of Rana Plaza. 

These included those of Spanish high street brand Mango and British fashion chain Primark. Rana Plaza also produced for other European and US brand names including C&A, KIK and Wal-Mart, they say.

These brands were also involved in the fire at the Tazreen factory, not far from Savar, where 112 workers died exactly five months ago. German costcutter KIK was also involved in the Ali Enterprises fire in Pakistan, where nearly 300 workers burned to death last September.

Labour rights groups say this latest collapse "provides yet further evidence that voluntary company-led monitoring has failed to protect workers’ lives." They are again urging brands and government officials to agree to an independent and binding fire and building safety programme.

"This terrible tragedy highlights the urgency of putting put a stop to the race to the bottom in supplying cheap means of production to international brands, a race in which hundreds of workers have lost their lives," adds Jyrki Raina, general secretary of the IndustriAll Global Union.

"Global clothing brands and retailers have a responsibility for their full production chains. Now it is time for them, suppliers and the Bangladeshi government to sit down with IndustriAall and its affiliates to agree on a safety programme that will ensure this will never happen again."

The union notes that while much-needed improvements to the national labour law have been debated through Bangladesh’s legislative process - including the government cabinet approving revisions on 22 April - this process has been lobbied by the global garment industry buyers who have demanded a scaling back of workers’ rights initially proposed in the reform.