Bangladeshi workers mark four years since factory collapse

Bangladeshi activists place a wreath on the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory complex disaster on April 24, 2017

Thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers staged a tearful demonstration Monday to mark the anniversary of a factory disaster that killed 1,138 people, demanding justice for the victims and better pay.

Four years later, no one has yet been convicted over the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in one of the world's worst industrial tragedies.

Another 2,000 people were wounded in the disaster, which sent shockwaves across the world and highlighted the failure of many top Western fashion brands to protect workers in the poor developing countries where their goods are manufactured.

"If four years are not enough to punish the culprits, bring them to us: we will find justice for ourselves," said Marium Akter, whose daughter Shieuly died in the disaster, as she laid a wreath at the site.

"I don't need any compensation any more. I want Sohel Rana to be hanged," she said, referring to the owner of the factory complex who has been charged with murder.

A court last year ordered that Rana and 40 others, including factory officials and government inspectors, should face trial for murder. They are accused of falsely certifying the factory complex as safe.

Thousands of textile workers were forced to enter the building to start shifts even though some expressed fears after noticing cracks in the structure.

Bangladesh has 4,500 textile factories, shipping some $30 billion worth of garments -- the second largest exporter after China -- but only a few hundred of these have been certified as safe.

Authorities have provided compensation for the 3,000 victims, including the injured and families of the dead, but many survivors say it is not enough.

"I would rather die than live like this," said Nilufa Begum, who was rescued 10 hours after the factory collapsed and still needs crutches.

"I want to live like a normal human being," said the 37-year-old, adding she had spent 450,000 taka ($5,700) on treatment.

Many survivors were in tears as they protested at Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka, and at a state-run graveyard where many of the workers were buried.

Security was tight, with hundreds of police and a water cannon deployed.

"Why do they have a water cannon? We came here to honour our departed brothers and sisters," said one angry garment worker.

Some shouted slogans demanding an increase in the basic monthly wage of $68 for the country's four million garment workers.

"Bangladeshi workers are the worst paid in the world. We want minimum monthly wages of $200 to have a decent living," Saiful Islam, a union leader, told AFP.

A survey last week by global charity Action Aid of more than 1,400 Rana Plana survivors found nearly half were still jobless while roughly 31 percent were too traumatised to work.

In the wake of the disaster, authorities pledged to improve working conditions at factories but accidents are still commonplace.

Even as workers rallied for safer conditions on Monday a boiler explosion at a factory in the western district of Kushtia killed two workers, said local police chief Shahabuddin Chowdhury.

In September a fire at a factory just miles from Rana Plaza claimed 34 lives.