The owner of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh — which collapsed two years ago killing more than 1,100 workers — on Monday was charged with murder along with his parents, the owners of the five apparel factories in the building and various government officials.
The charges of murder could result in the death penalty for the accused as investigators made a charge of “mass killing” and of deliberately throwing the workers into a “death trap.”
The murder charges replace earlier ones of death due to negligence following an initial investigation by the police in Savar, the Dhaka suburb where Rana Plaza is based. The 45-page document includes two separate charge sheets — the first against 42 people for causing the deaths and another against 18 people for breaking the building codes.
Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, and his parents are among the accused, along with the owners of the five garment factories in the building and 12 government officials, including the-then mayor of Savar.
More than 18 of the accused were arrested last year. Only four of those were not released on bail, including Rana, who had gone missing immediately after the incident and was apprehended by police near the India border.
More than 1,200 people were interrogated for the charge sheet, police officials said, including survivors of the tragedy, which has been described as one of the worst industrial accidents in the world.
But the charges drew international criticism for a variety of reasons.
“It’s outrageous that it took more than two years for these charges to be filed, particularly given the number of people who were killed and the clear evidence pointing to the fact that the death toll could have been prevented and that the collapse wasn’t simply an accident,” said Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. “We’re happy to see that charges were finally filed, and that 42 people have been accused. But it is unacceptable that the head of the local government [the Upazila Nirbahi Officer], who just hours before the collapse had said that the building was safe, is not facing any charges.”
She also noted there is concern the four building inspectors named in the case will receive a discharge when the case goes to trial, “making the case weaker.”
A spokeswoman for the International Labor Rights Forum said: “While those responsible for the disaster are finally being held responsible, it’s important to not forget about the ongoing plight of the victims. The Rana Plaza Trust Fund is still $2.4 million short of the $30 million needed to provide basic compensation to the survivors and families for medical expenses and loss of income.”
ILRF is calling on J.C. Penney to contribute to the fund and urging other brands and retailers to increase their contributions.
The charges were revealed a day after another apparel factory in the suburbs of Dhaka, Dignity Textile Mills in Gazipur, was hit by a fire. The blaze, which broke out Sunday afternoon, was brought under control early Monday morning. Although the seven-story structure was severely damaged — the top three floors collapsed under the intense heat of the fire — no casualties have been reported so far, police officials told WWD.
It was reported that the fire started on the second floor, and quickly spread upward, with the steel structure quickly growing too hot to control.
The structure was assessed by the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Safety on May 17, 2014.
Bangladesh is the second largest producer of garments in the world, and its $25 billion garment industry employs more than four million workers.
The Rana Plaza collapse followed a spate of factory fires, including one at Tazreen Fashion Ltd. in November 2012, in which 111 factory workers lost their lives as factory supervisors reportedly locked exit gates even after the fire was detected.
In the case of Rana Plaza, it has been alleged that factory owners, as well as the owner of the building, knew that the building had cracks and was unsafe, but that workers were instructed to get to work despite this knowledge. Investigators also found that the building only had permission to build up to five floors and that it was built upon marshy land and broke a series of building codes, but still got permission to build.