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Bangladesh Factory Owner Arrested; Industry Suppliers React


Police in Bangladesh have arrested the owner of an illegally-constructed building that collapsed last week, killing nearly 400 garment factory workers. Apprehended near the Indian border, Mohammed Sohel Rana was transported to the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, where he was being held for questioning on charges of negligence, illegal construction and forcing laborers to join his work. Authorities also detained Rana's father, along with four owners of apparel factories housed within the dangerous building.

Rana Plaza collapsed last Wednesday as thousands of garment workers toiled inside within five apparel factories. While Rana had approval to build a five-story building, he added three additional floors illegally. When huge cracks started webbing through the building last week, police ordered an evacuation. A bank and some first-floor shops closed, but garment factory managers on the higher floors allegedly ordered workers to continue their shifts. Of the 3,122 workers employed in the factories, at least 382 were killed in the collapse. The tragedy is the latest black eye to Bangladesh's apparel industry, which accounts for 80% of the Asian nation's $24 billion in exports. The death toll far eclipsed what had been the sector's biggest calamity to date: A fire five months ago at the Tazreen Fashions factory that killed 112 people.

For some in the apparel sector of the ad specialty industry, the latest incident has them reconsidering their position in Bangladesh. "We do have some relationships in Bangladesh that we will be looking at again," says Joel Freet, national sales manager-corporate at Cutter & Buck (asi/47965). "We will continue to seek production partners that can provide the highest quality products from a safe and secure working environment."

Others in the market, though, say the building collapse may ultimately prompt better protections for third-world garment workers. "I believe that you will see a concerted effort by American and European apparel companies to clean up shoddy, sub-par factories in Bangladesh," says David Bebon, CEO of DBEBZ Apparel, a manufacturer of woven and knit sport shirts.

Specifically, some suppliers believe that the auditing processes western apparel companies use to certify that a factory is safe could be intensified. "The tragic incidents in Bangladesh are sure to prompt the international manufacturing community to expand their concerns for working conditions to include closer audits of the physical structures themselves," says Ira Neaman, CEO of Vantage Apparel (asi/93390). "Governments may need to allow the use of outside building inspectors to certify the structures are safe."

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