Thousands of mourners gathered Tuesday at the wreckage of a Bangladeshi garment factory building to offer prayers for the souls of the 1,127 people who died in the structure’s collapse last month, the worst tragedy in the history of the global garment industry.
The Islamic prayer service was held a day after the army ended a nearly three-week, painstaking search for bodies among the rubble and turned control of the site over to the civilian government for cleanup.
Recovery workers got a shocking boost Friday when they pulled a 19-year-old seamstress alive from the wreckage. But most of their work entailed removing corpses that were so badly decomposed from the heat they could only be identified if their cellphones or work IDs were found with them. The last body was found Sunday night.
Soldiers in camouflage, police and firefighters in uniform stood solemnly in neat rows near relatives of the dead. Many of the rescue workers had pained expressions on their faces. Tears rolled down the cheeks of one soldier.
The mourners raised their cupped hands in prayer and asked for the salvation of those who lost their lives when the Rana Plaza building came crashing down on April 24. They also appealed for divine blessings for the injured still in the hospital.
Maj. Gen. Chowdhury Hasan Suhrawardy, the military commander who had been supervising the site, thanked all those involved in the work. He said the army has prepared a list of 1,000 survivors that it would give to the government with the recommendation they be provided jobs on a priority basis.
The tragedy came months after a fire at another Bangladesh garment factory killed 112 workers.
With global pressure mounting on Bangladesh and the brands it manufactures for, some of the biggest Western retailers have embraced a plan that would require them to pay for factory improvements here.
Italian fashion brand Benetton, British retailer Marks & Spencer and Spanish retailer Mango became the latest companies Tuesday to agree to sign a contract requiring them to conduct independent safety inspections of factories and cover the costs of repairs. The pact also calls for retailers to pay up to $500,000 a year toward the effort and to stop doing business with any factory that refuses to make safety improvements.
Swedish retailing giant H&M, the biggest purchaser of garments from Bangladesh; British companies Primark and Tesco; C&A of the Netherlands; and Spain’s Inditex, owner of the Zara chain, announced on Monday they would sign the pact.
Two other companies agreed to sign last year: PVH, which makes clothes under the Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Izod labels, and German retailer Tchibo. Among the big holdouts are Wal-Mart Stores, which is the second-largest producer of clothing in Bangladesh, and Gap.
Gap, which had been close to signing the agreement last year, said Monday that the pact is “within reach,” but the company is concerned about the possible legal liability involved.
Worker rights groups set a deadline for today for companies to accept the agreement, saying they will increase pressure on brands that do not.
Bangladesh has about 5,000 garment factories and 3.6 million garment workers. It is the third-biggest exporter of clothes in the world, after China and Italy.
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