Bangladeshi authorities pressed murder charges on Monday against the owner of a garment factory complex in Dhaka that came crashing down two years ago, killing more than 1,100 people in the nation’s worst industrial disaster.
Officials in the Criminal Investigation department (CID) said over 40 people including a dozen government representatives have been charged over the collapse of Rana Plaza that underscored the unsafe working conditions in the country’s ready-to-wear industry and sparked outrage at home and abroad.
The plaza, built illegally on swampy grounds, housed five garment factories which supplied to many major Western brands as part of a burgeoning trade that rakes in more than $20 billion annually from exports.
“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.
If convicted, the accused could face the death penalty. Police initially said the defendants, including the owners of the factories, would be charged with culpable homicide, but in view of the seriousness of the incident the charges were upgraded to murder.
Rana was arrested after a four-day hunt as he was trying to flee across the border to India following the building collapse on April 24, 2013.
A lengthy investigation found thousands of workers were forced to enter the compound at the start of the working day despite several complaints about cracks appearing in the walls.The police report described the deaths as a “mass killing” while about 2,500 people were injured in the disaster.
Since then the industry has been in the throes of a massive overhaul with a string of safety inspections amid growing demand for labour reforms as extremely low wages have led global brands and retailers to pick Bangladesh over other developing countries.