It’s been almost a full year since the tragic Bangladesh factory collapse killed 1,135 garment workers in the capital of Dhaka. Though police have been slow to formulate charges for Sohel Rana, the negligent owner of the factory, they were not planning to let him off the hook as some had begun to worry. This week, authorities announced that Rana would stand trial for his role in the disaster.
“We are planning to press murder charges against Sohel Rana,” said Bijoy Krishna Kar, the lead investigator on the case. It was the first time police had suggested that a harsh punishment may be coming Rana’s way. While the press deemed Rana “public enemy number one,” the High Court had granted Rana bail, raising concern that the rich and powerful can literally get away with anything.
Authorities said they had hoped to officially press charges before the anniversary of the tragedy on April 24, but the investigation was very time-consuming. Instead, they intend to formally file the charges sometime in May. If convicted, they added, Rana could be subject to the death penalty.
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The severity of the charges indicates that the investigation turned up evidence that the factory collapse was preventable and the result of wanton, reckless working conditions enabled by the supervisors. At the time of the incident, surviving workers said they had complained to management about large cracks appearing in the building’s walls and expressed concern about their safety. Bosses claimed that the building was approved by inspectors (it wasn’t) and they threatened to dock employee wages if they didn’t stay and work in the factory.
Rana will not have to take sole responsibility for the calamity. Police stated that about 40 people would also be charged for being complicit with the willful negligence. Although not all 40 people are likely to be charged with murder, without naming names, Kar acknowledged that at least a few of them will. Bangladeshis believe that Rana’s father, who jointly owned the building with his son, and the five main bosses in the factory are the others most likely to face the death penalty.
Obviously, a promise of legal charges to come is not equivalent to a conviction. The world should watch these court proceedings closely to see whether the wealthy and powerful can squirm their way out of this one. Given the enormous death toll and international scrutiny, it seems likely that Bangladesh courts will want to make an example of the factory owners rather than cut them any favors, but corruption has a way of trumping common sense.
Hopefully the trials will result in yet another victory for the garment workers by pressuring factory management to protect the 4 million garment employees in Bangladesh rather than cutting costs at every turn. Late last year, garment workers were also promised a 77 percent pay increase.