Bangladesh's finance minister downplayed the impact of last week's factory-building collapse on his country's garment industry, saying Friday he didn't think it was "really serious" hours after the 500th body was pulled from the debris.
Finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith spoke as the government cracked down on those it blamed for the disaster in the Dhaka suburb of Savar. It suspended Savar's mayor and arrested an engineer who had called for the building's evacuation last week, but was also accused of helping the owner add three illegal floors to the eight-story structure. The building owner was arrested earlier.
The government appears to be attempting to fend off accusations that it is in part to blame for the tragedy because of weak oversight of the building's construction.
During a visit to the Indian capital, New Delhi, Muhith said the disaster would not harm Bangladesh's garment industry, which is by far the country's biggest source of export income.
"The present difficulties ... well, I don't think it is really serious - it's an accident," he said. "And the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn't happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all."
Pressure on retailers to fix factories
In the aftermath of the collapse, Bangladesh's garment manufacturers may face a choice of reform or perish. Home to five factories that supplied clothing to retailers in Europe and the US, the shoddily constructed building's collapse has put a focus on the high human price paid when Bangladeshi government ineptitude, Western consumer apathy and global retailing's drive for the lowest cost of production intersect.