DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- The defects and errors that led to the world's deadliest garment-industry accident extend from the swampy ground the doomed Rana Plaza was built on, to "extremely poor quality" construction materials, to the massive, vibrating equipment operating when the eight-story building collapsed, a committee appointed by Bangladesh's government concluded.
The committee recommended life prison sentences for the owners of the building and the five garment factories that operated there, though the charges they currently face carry a maximum seven-year term. Their report, submitted to the government Wednesday, says nothing about the role that an inadequate regulatory system played in the April 24 collapse, which left more than 1,100 people dead.
The disaster highlighted the hazardous working conditions in Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry and the lack of safety for millions of workers who are paid as low as $38 a month. The 1,127 killed at Rana Plaza in the Dhaka suburb of Savar are among at least 1,800 Bangladesh garment-industry workers killed in fires or building collapses since 2005.
The investigating committee, appointed by the interior ministry, found that the ground Rana Plaza was built on was unfit for a multi-story building.
"A portion of the building was constructed on land which had been a body of water before and was filled with rubbish," committee head Khandker Mainuddin Ahmed said. He said the land had been swampy with shallow water.
Building owner Sohel Rana also "used extremely poor quality iron rods and cement," Ahmed told The Associated Press on Thursday. "There were a series of irregularities."
The report found that Rana had permission to build a six-story structure and added two floors illegally so he could rent them out to garment factories. Past statements from authorities said the owner had permission for a five-story structure and added three floors illegally.
The report also said the building was not built for industrial use, and that the weight of the heavy garment factory machinery and their vibrations contributed to the building collapse.
Some elements of the report, including problems with building materials and heavy equipment, were previously mentioned by investigators.
Rana Plaza was shut down briefly after workers spotted cracks in its walls and pillars a day before the collapse. But the garment factory workers were called back to work, many of them forcefully, hours before the building fell.
The committee recommended that Rana and the owners of the garment factories be sentenced to life in jail if they are found guilty of violating building codes. Rana, three engineers and four factory owners have been arrested, but the building-code charges they face carry a maximum sentence of seven years behind bars.
The committee also urged the government to ensure that all those injured at Rana Plaza receive free medical treatment. More than 2,500 people were rescued shortly after the disaster.
Labor activists are among those who have blamed not just the owners but the government for the disaster. Government inspections of garment factories are infrequent and easily subverted by corruption, and the garment industry, by far Bangladesh's biggest exporter, is highly influential in government.
The owner of a Bangladesh garment factory where 112 people died in a fire last year has not been charged, though his factory had three illegal floors and no emergency exits. After three anthropologists filed a petition claiming that the Nov. 24 fire resulted from Tazreen Fashions Ltd. owner Delwar Hossain's negligence, Bangladesh's High Court asked authorities to bring Hossain before the court on May 30, and to bar him from leaving the country.
Since the disaster, many international clothing retailers have signed on to a five-year, legally binding contract that requires them to help pay for fire safety and building improvements in Bangladesh. Most American brands have not; the National Retail Federation is leading a coalition of North American retail and apparel groups to develop an alternative broader proposal that would go beyond Bangladesh.
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Walmart declined to join the Bangladesh safety accord, instead creating its <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/walmart-bangladesh-factory_n_3275756.html" target="_blank">own safety program to address factory working conditions</a> in the country. The program will help more than <a href="http://news.walmart.com/news-archive/2013/05/14/walmart-to-raise-inspection-standards-provide-full-transparency-safety-conditions-factories-bangladesh-supply-chain" target="_blank">17,000 workers in 34 factories in Bangladesh</a>, according to "new principles [that] actually go further than the accord," Walmart said in a statement.
Retailer Gap will sign the safety accord if rules on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/gap-bangladesh-safety-accord-decline_n_3271406.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_blank">"how disputes are resolved" are changed</a>, the company said in a statement. Gap says it does business with <a href="http://www.gapinc.com/content/gapinc/html/csr/bangladesh.html" target="_blank">78 factories in Bangladesh.</a>
Macy's has reportedly declined to sign onto the safety accord, instead electing to develop <a href="http://www.safety-reporter.com/articleview/17996-north-american-retailers-to-develop-bangladesh-safety-accord" target="_blank">its own safety standards for factories in Bangladesh, along with other retailers</a>, Canadian Safety Reporter reports.
Sears has not signed the safety accord despite its "ongoing efforts to work collaboratively with other brands and retailers to improve working conditions in Bangladesh," the company wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. Instead, Sears says the company is working with retail trade associations to create an <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-05-15/business/ct-biz-0516-sears-bangladesh-20130516_1_safety-accord-industriall-building-safety-agreement" target="_blank">"alternate proposal"</a> for improving factory safety.
JCPenney has said it's working with the North American Bangladesh Worker Safety Working Group to improve conditions in <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-15/bangladesh-safety-accord-is-too-binding-for-american-retailers" target="_blank">Bangladesh, but the retailer has not signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh</a>, Businessweek reports. "Moving forward, we’ll strengthen our audit requirements related to structural and electrical inspections, and continue enforcing a policy that prohibits the use of factories located within multi-use buildings," JCPenney wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
VF Corp, which owns brands such as The North Face, Wrangler jeans and Vans, has not signed the accord. It wrote in an email to The Huffington Post that the company "has a long history of working in Bangladesh and intends to maintain operations in the country ... We are currently evaluating all agreements and programs aimed at addressing safety standards to determine the best opportunity to create effective change [for Bangladesh garment workers]."
Target has declined to join the safety accord, instead <a href="http://pressroom.target.com/news/targets-position-on-bangladesh" target="_blank">highlighting its involvement with the North American Bangladesh Worker Safety Working Group</a>, a third-party organization that will endorse its own <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/16/u-s-retailers-arent-signing-a-new-safety-accord-for-bangladesh-heres-why/" target="_blank">“broad set of [safety] proposals,”</a> according to The Washington Post.
Despite <a href="http://www.calvert.com/newsArticle.html?article=20447&source=RSS%3A+All+Calvert+News" target="_blank">facing pressure to join</a>, Kohl's has yet to sign onto the safety accord, according to the Worker Rights Consortium.
Despite receiving pressure to sign the accord from labor and consumer groups, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/business/global/hm-agrees-to-bangladesh-safety-plan.html?_r=0" target="_blank">Cato Fashions is yet to get on board with the agreement</a>, The New York Times reports.
OshKosh B'Gosh parent company Carter's has yet to sign the Bangladesh safety accord, says the Worker Rights Consortium.
In the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, Nordstrom reviewed its operations, affirming it <a href="http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2020985594_nordstrommeetingxml.html" target="_blank">produces apparel at three factories in the country</a>. While saying it will work with the American Apparel and Footwear Association to improve worker conditions, Nordstrom has not signed on to the Bangladesh safety accord, the Seattle Times reports.
American Eagle Outfitters
American Eagle is among retailers cited by the Worker Rights Consortium who have not yet signed on to the Bangladesh safety agreement.
The Children's Place
Kids' retailer The Children's Place is reportedly still evaluating <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/05/13/hm-sign-bangladesh-labor-agreement/2154991/" target="_blank">whether it will sign onto the safety accord</a>, USAToday reports.
Despite <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-05/wal-mart-nixed-paying-bangladesh-suppliers-to-fight-fire.html" target="_blank">links to Bangladesh manufacturing</a>, Foot Locker has yet to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, according to the Worker Rights Consortium.