How To React?
"He used to intimidate people whenever he needed them, like bringing people out for street marches in support of the lawmaker. Neighbours would avoid him ... No one wanted to upset him.Mohammed Sohel Rana, an uneducated oaf who just happens to have political connections -- in either of Bangladesh's two major political parties capable of holding government office, a local enforcer, and a fairly wealthy landowner has been arrested. He will doubtless be made to stand trial; after all, the world is looking on. Almost 400 impoverished Bangladeshi workers died horribly in the mangled collapse of the eight-story building he had built to house apparel factories.
"He doesn't belong to any particular political party. Whatever party is in power, he is there."
Ashrafuddin Khan Imu, Awami League leader
"The building has minor damages. There is nothing serious."
Mohammed Sohel Rana
There are still hundreds of people missing. Authorities have moved in, however, informing the rescuers that their job is finished. After the passage of a week since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building it is hugely unlikely that anyone would be left alive, yet to be rescued. The one lone voice still calling for rescue was stilled when a fire broke out and the rescuers were forced to leave. Once the fire was put out there was not another sound heard from within the wreckage.
It is a scene of utter devastation and horror, with the nauseating odour of death and decay, a visual nightmare signifying a society's failure at protecting the vulnerable among them, in its corrupt rush to further its reputation as the cheapest place on Earth to produce mass-market clothing, so much so that even China recognizes the profit-effectiveness of sub-contracting out to Bangladesh whose factory-worker wages are lower even than China's own.
The building was a massive complex within which an assortment of factories operated on its various floors, with shops and a bank co-located below. It was said that over 3,200 people worked there. None of them would have known that the top three floors of the building had been erected without permit, illegally and with substandard engineering and materials. Had they known, it would have meant little to them.
They depended upon the pittance they earned -- the average wage in the garment-producing industry in Bangladesh is said to be $40 a month -- to feed their families. And that, precisely, is the problem. The international community can shrink in disgust and dismay that their shopping habits helped produce this calamity. And that is true. But withdraw custom from the factories that employ the impoverished workers and they have nothing.
Rana Plaza had been built in 2010 by Mohammed Rana on land he owned that was once a swamp. He amassed his wealth through his political connections, built on a number of government-owned properties that he bought at reduced prices. He obtained a municipal building permit for a five-story building, and then simply added on another three floors. When those warning cracks appeared, he along with factory managers ordered fearful workers to enter the building and resume work as usual.
"I was too afraid to go inside the building. But the factory officials assured us they would also be in the factory, so there should not be any problem", explained a surviving factory worker. The factory owners were in the business of manufacturing items for export at prices that would guarantee them a profit. Wages for workers are set at a level that is hardly reflective of subsistence, but is evidently higher than wages earned elsewhere in the country's economy.
Because of a human rights campaign undertaken by the West in the 1990s against the use of child labour, Bangladeshi factories laid off 30,000 child workers. Later follow-up by Oxfam determined that the children who were released did not return to school, did not manage to live better lives; they took worse jobs or ended up begging in the streets and sometimes turning to prostitution to survive.
The country has a per-capita GDP income of $2,000, one of the lowest in the world. If irate consumer groups agitate against buying products from Bangladesh is it those workers who will suffer. Without even the meager wages that they earn, they and they families will have no income whatever. It is, of course, the government and its bureaucracies that are at fault, corrupt and uncaring.
Which is where the pressure of international public opinion should focus.