Police in Bangladesh on Monday filed the first formal murder charges against the owner of a building that collapsed in 2013, killing more than 1,130 people in the country’s worst industrial disaster.
The collapse of Rana Plaza, built on swampy ground outside the capital, Dhaka, ranks amongst the world’s worst industrial accidents, and sparked an outcry for greater safety in the world’s second-largest exporter of ready-made garments.
In all, 42 people were charged over the disaster, a rare step in a country where critics complain that powerful garment industry bosses often go unpunished for factory accidents.
“We pressed charges against 42 people, including owner Sohel Rana, in two cases filed over the building collapse,” said lead investigator Bijoy Krishna Kar, adding that one case was for murder and the other over a breach in construction rules.
The investigation found the workers were forced to enter the building to work despite major cracks discovered a day before it collapsed, Kar, an official of the Criminal Investigation Department of the police, told Reuters.
If convicted Rana could be sentenced to death.
Rana was arrested after a four-day hunt shortly after the April 2013 building collapse, apparently trying to flee across the border to neighboring India.
Low labor costs and, critics say, shortcuts on safety, make Bangladesh the cheapest place to make large quantities of clothing.
About 4 million people work in Bangladesh’s garment industry, some earning as little as $38 a month, conditions Pope Francis has compared to “slave labor”.
Some 220 garment factories have shut down in Bangladesh with the loss of up to 150,000 jobs after the collapse of Rana Plaza triggered a wave of inspections, Germany-based NGO Transparency International said in a recent report.