Reshma Begum, one of the garment workers in Savar, Bangladesh, who was trapped in the debris of an eight-story building for 17 days, was found alive Friday afternoon.
Authorities had given up all hope of rescuing any survivors as the death toll has mounted dramatically, rising to 1,042 on Friday. The building, which collapsed on April 24, housed five garment factories with more than 3,000 workers. The rescue teams broke into jubilant cheers as Reshma, whom they rescued after 40 minutes of effort, groaned and was brought out of the ruins in a stretcher. She was given water and a biscuit, and transported in an ambulance to the hospital.
The longest time a person has survived without water is 18 days, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, but more typically, depending on the temperatures, it is two to three days. It is possible to survive longer without food, but rescue officials said that Reshma Begum spoke about having access to some food supplies which ran out two days ago, an official said.
“We’re saying it is a miracle,” said one of the relatives of the missing workers, “and perhaps there will be more.”
As prime minster Sheikh Hasina made her way to the hospital where Begum was being treated by doctors, she promised that the search would go on until the last survivor was found.
The Bangladesh textile and apparel industry has been under growing pressure to improve worker safety ever since the fire at Tazreen Fashion Ltd. in November claimed 112 lives. There have been two more fires since then, including one late Wednesday in the Mirpur area that killed eight people.
Local garment factory owners said they have felt a sense of foreboding and threat as brands have canceled orders, condemning the safety measures set in place for labor. Others — such as Walt Disney Co. — said they would no longer manufacture in Bangladesh. On a larger scale, both the European Union and the U.S. have been talking about changing the Generalized System of Preferences status for Bangladesh if safety conditions do not improve. The GSP with the U.S. does not cover textiles and apparel, however.
On Friday, the Clean Clothes Campaign said the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh now has a million signatures and pushed for more.
“Brands cannot ignore this massive global support and have to sign this Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh before the deadline of 15 May,” Tessel Pauli from Clean Clothes Campaign said. “We have been pushing for binding and independent safety measures for too many years now. It is time to stop the killings. The accord has the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers who are currently at risk.”
Various organizations across the world have been working to get more signatures to the petitions. These include CCC, IndustriALL Global Union, the International Labor Rights Forum and War on Want.
“With the death toll of the Rana Plaza collapse topping 1,000 and yet another fatal fire in a Bangladesh garment factory on 8th May, it is more important than ever that brands sign on immediately,” the CCC said, while noting that 1,700 garment workers had died in Bangladesh since 2005 due to unsafe buildings.
In 2012, PVH Corp., owner of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and the German retailer Tchibo were the first brands to commit to the safety accord.
“The requirements of this program are straightforward, commonsense measures which will have a vital impact on worker safety in factories in Bangladesh. It is now time for all other brands to commit to sustainable safety in Bangladesh,” said Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union.
“These global retailers must change their behavior. We have seen the terrible consequences in Bangladesh of the business-as-usual mentality. Companies must sign up and show they are finally willing to take on their responsibilities to these factory workers, who are ultimately part of their global workforce,” Philip Jennings, general secretary of UNI Global Union, noted.
Changes from global brands are expected as well. Pauli of the Clean Clothes Campaign noted, “Global citizens have sent a clear message to international brands sourcing from Bangladesh, such as H&M, Mango, Primark, GAP, C&A, KIK, Benetton, J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart. We are calling on brands to take immediate action in implementing sustainable safety measures in their supplier factories in order to prevent another tragedy such as Rana Plaza.”
Meanwhile, police investigations into the Tung Hai Sweater Ltd. fire that took place later Wednesday night in the 11-story building at Mirpur are also under way.
Police said that they were baffled by the case and by the deaths of the eight people who were found dead, including Mahbubur Rahman, managing director of the Tung Hai Group, and Additional Deputy Inspector General of Police, Police Headquarters (Transport) ZM Morshed.
A police official confirmed to WWD that the deaths were caused by toxic smoke and that investigations into the cause of the fire were still under way and that they were not ruling out an act of arson. However, he confirmed that certification and compliance was not an issue for the factory.
“We are serious when we say we are going to protect our ready-made garment industry,” a Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association official observed, when asked if these measures were more cosmetic than revolutionary. “This is the biggest export earner for the country, and we will make the changes that transform the sector.”