Bangladesh disaster crushes owner's ideal of clothes with a conscience

Sun Jun 16, 2013 5:50pm EDT
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By Frank Jack Daniel, Serajul Quadir and Fiona Ortiz

SAVAR, Bangladesh/MADRID (Reuters) - When Spanish garment maker David Mayor arrived in Bangladesh a decade ago the fashion label he set up had the motto "clothing with a heart".

In an industry notorious for harsh working conditions he said he wanted to show it was possible to run an ethical business in which workers were trained well and treated with respect.

The story of how that dream ended in the rubble of Rana Plaza, an eight-storey factory complex that collapsed in April killing 1,129 people in one of the world's worst industrial accidents, is a cautionary tale for global retailers now scrambling to prevent another fatal accident in Bangladesh.

Rana Plaza was built on swampy ground, with substandard concrete. It was designed as a five-storey shopping center, but the owner of the building, a local political leader, rented it out to factory owners and built three more floors.

"David tried to do something good, better than the locals, but finally he was overtaken," said Brother Massimo Cattaneo, a Roman Catholic missionary who runs a technical school in northern Bangladesh and worked with Mayor on a training programme he funded there.

Despite repeated attempts in Spain and Bangladesh, Reuters was unable to contact Mayor for comment. He has made no public statements since the accident and it was not possible to establish whether he has hired a lawyer.

Mayor had nothing to do with the construction of Rana Plaza. But as the part-owner of a factory in the building the Spaniard, who was not in Bangladesh at the time, is one of those named as under investigation in the police case launched after the disaster. He has not been arrested.

All the other factory owners named by police, including his partner, are now in custody while the police complete their investigation. Although none have been charged, a government panel has recommended they face charges of culpable homicide, which carries a maximum life sentence.   Continued...

Crowds gather at the collapsed Rana Plaza building as people rescue garment workers trapped in the rubble, in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka in this April 24, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj/Files