Bangladesh building collapse death toll reaches 1,000

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Bangladeshi rescuers retrieve garment worker Reshma from the rubble of a collapsed building in Savar on Friday, May 10, 2013

Rescuers combing through the debris of a garment-factory building that collapsed in Bangladesh 18 days ago pulled a survivor from under the rubble yesterday, even as the death toll from the disaster rose to 1,085.

A woman, identified only as Reshma, was found alive in the basement of Rana Plaza and has been taken to a military hospital in Dhaka for treatment, an official at the army control room said. Reshma, who didn't have any visible signs of injury, was pulled out at 4:30 p.m. local time yesterday.

The woman was the first to be found alive in the last 13 days from the site of the nation's worst industrial disaster. The tragedy has led Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government to shut factories as the European Union's Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht considers steps including trade sanctions against Bangladesh to encourage changes in working conditions.

Hasina congratulated emergency workers, describing the rescue as a "miraculous and wonderful event," her special assistant Mahbubul Hoque Shakil said in a phone interview. She visited the woman in the hospital, Shakil said. Rescuers had pulled out 2,437 people alive during the first few days.

Reshma was given biscuits, water and oxygen before being pulled out, according to the army official. She called for help by sticking a pipe out of an opening in the debris, having survived on meager dry food, which she found in the wreckage.

"I heard voices of the rescuers for the past several days," Reshma told the private Somoy television, from her hospital bed in Savar. "I hit the concrete with sticks and rods to attract their attention. No one heard me. I never dreamed I'd see the daylight again."

Worker safety

Recurrent industrial disasters as well as continued political tensions are "credit negative" for Bangladesh because they may further damage investor confidence in the country, Moody's Corp. said in a statement May 9.

On May 8, a fire broke out at Tung Hai Sweaters Ltd., killing the owner of the factory, according to a spokesman for the Bangladesh Fire Service. At least 112 people were killed in a blaze in November at the Tazreen garment factory that has made clothes for companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Another fire in 2006 left 54 people dead in the port city of Chittagong.

The Bangladesh government, workers, employers and the International Labour Organization agreed to a plan earlier this week to improve workers' rights and safety.

The ILO proposals, which include better worker protection and the right to collective bargaining, will be submitted to parliament during its next session, expected to start in June, the Geneva-based organization said in a statement on its website. The government will cooperate in the implementation of the plan, Commerce Secretary Mahbub Ahmed said.

Factory closures

Two factories in Chittagong and 16 in the capital Dhaka were ordered to shut operations, and the government will close any plant that's found to be unsafe during inspections, Abdul Latif Siddique, minister for textiles, said this week.

Retailers including Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney Co. (JCP), along with labor activists, have been considering an agreement to improve factory safety in Bangladesh for at least two years.

The agreement, with an estimated price tag of $3 billion spread over five years, would require companies to agree to pay more to factory owners for safety upgrades. The document calls for immediate inspections to ensure the structural safety of all factories and for the installation of fire-safe stairways.

Industrial disasters

Walt Disney Co. (DIS), the world's largest entertainment company, removed Bangladesh in March from a list of countries where partners can produce clothing and merchandise, according to a letter to licensees. Pakistan, India, Cambodia or Vietnam are among the nations that could pick up business from Bangladesh.

The number of casualties from the collapse of Rana Plaza complex is greater than in the infamous Triangle shirtwaist factory fire in New York or the Texas City, Texas, ship explosion that ranks as the deadliest in the U.S. The grisly incident is comparable to a 1906 mine disaster in Courrieres, France, which killed more than 1,000 workers, including children, to rank as Europe's worst industrial disaster.

Primark, the U.K. budget clothing chain owned by Associated British Foods Plc (ABF), said yesterday it is putting together a compensation package for workers affected by the tragedy. A further "comprehensive" program covering the needs of survivors and the dependents of those killed is also being finalized, it said in a statement. The program will include "medical and occupational rehabilitation," Primark said.

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