May 12, 2013
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi and David Bergman in Dhaka and David Blair
Trade union leaders in Bangladesh have accused Primark, the British retailer, of dragging its feet over agreeing compensation for relatives of those killed or injured in the collapse of Rana Plaza.
The official death toll from the collapse of the eight-storey building on April 24 now stands at 1,120. Many of the deceased worked for New Wave clothing factory, which supplied Primark and Bonmarche, another British retailer.
Both companies have promised compensation and Primark representatives met Bangladeshi trade union leaders in Dhaka, the country’s capital, on April 27 and 28.
The unions want a package based on a formula devised after another disaster in 2005, calculated according to years of service and lost earnings. If applied to Rana Plaza, this would amount to a payment of about £23,000 for the families of each dead worker, with foreign retailers contributing 45 per cent.
“They said they would come back soon with a specific proposal, but there are no further developments and I’m disappointed and also angry,” said Amirul Haque Amin, head of the National Garment Workers’ Federation. “It’s been two weeks and I expected after the meeting [to hear from them] within three or four days.”
If half the dead worked for New Wave, the Western retailers would be liable for about £6 million under this formula. Primark made an operating profit of £238 million in the six months to the end of March.
In London, the company said that it was “working on a comprehensive support package”, but cautioned this would take some time. “The fate of all the employees in the entire complex has still not been confirmed and a list of employees has not yet been established because many records were destroyed when the building collapsed,” said a statement.
A Primark spokesman denied that any undertaking had been given to respond in a matter of days. “The company has been clear from the outset that compensation arrangements have to be properly set up and that will take a little time,” he said, stressing that no agreed list of deceased employees of New Wave has been compiled.
In the meantime, Primark is arranging for food to be delivered to 750 households every week, with provision for this to rise to 1,000.
Bonmarche, which has 360 shops in Britain, also pledged to join a “credible independent compensation scheme to support those affected”.
Reshma Begum, the 18-year-old woman rescued from the rubble of the Dhaka garment factory 17 days after it collapsed, on Sunday night said she never believed she would survive.
In a brief interview with the BBC from hospital where she is recovering from severe dehydration, she said: “Even in my wildest dreams I did not imagine I would come out alive….I was not even sure how long I had been in there,” she said.
Her brother said he believed she was killed in the collapse. “I didn’t think I would find her alive. I was only hoping to find her body some could give her a proper burial,” he said.