DHAKA: Bangladesh’s textile industry reopened for business on Thursday following an eight-day shutdown triggered by the collapse of a factory compound that killed at least 429 people, an industry body said.
Millions of staff began returning to workplaces around the capital Dhaka which make clothing for top Western retailers such as Walmart and H&M, but which have been closed since the April 24 disaster.
“All factories have opened today and the workers have returned to work,” said Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
“We don’t have any reports of protests or violence,” he told Agence France-Presse.
Workers walked out en masse the day the eight-storey Rana Plaza compound collapsed in the town of Savar outside Dhaka, the latest in a string of deadly disasters to hit the $20-billion industry.
There has been a series of attacks on factories over the last week, and anger at the conditions of garment workers—many of whom earn less than $40 a month—was the main focus of May Day rallies on Wednesday.
Some three million people are employed in the country’s 4,500 textile plants, which are a mainstay of the impoverished nation’s economy. The shutdown is estimated to have cost the industry about $25 million a day, according to Azim.
Authorities on Thursday suspended from office the mayor of Savar for approving the building and failing to shut the factories, when cracks appeared in the structure a day before the tragedy.
Mohammad Refayet Ullah, who for the last 14 years has been mayor of the satellite town which is home to scores of garment factories, is the highest official to be suspended for the country’s worst industrial disaster.
Local Government Secretary Abu Alam Shahid Khan told Agence France-Presse that legal action would be taken against the elected mayor.
Experts inspecting the site said that contractors had used shoddy construction materials, and the building had been erected on a filled-up pond in a flagrant violation of construction rules.
The government has also suspended two engineers who approved and cleared the factories to reopen, after the cracks appeared in the structure.
They have been arrested along with the building owner and four factory bosses, and face charges of causing death from negligence.
Army spokesman Major Mahmud, who uses one name, said that the confirmed death toll in the disaster was now 429, with 2,437 people rescued.
The overall toll is expected to top 500 as officials said on Wednesday that 149 people were still unaccounted for.
Speaking to parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had urged employees to return to work and criticized reported attacks on some factories.
“I would like to tell the workers to keep their head cool, keep mills and factories operative, otherwise you will end up losing your jobs,” she said.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter after China. The industry accounts for 80 percent of the country’s exports and more than 40 percent of its industrial workforce.