BANGLADESHI police charged 42 people with murder yesterday over the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster which killed 1,137 people.
Among them were Sohel Rana, the owner of the building which collapsed, his parents, the owners of five clothing factories with premises there and more than a dozen government officials.
The charges were increased from culpable homicide to murder after investigators found that Mr Rana, his staff and the factory managers had forced the workers to enter the building against their will after major cracks had opened up the day before.
A police report called the deaths a “mass killing.” About 2,500 people were also injured in Bangladesh’s worst industrial disaster.
In a separate case, the accused will also face charges of violating safety rules during the construction of Rana Plaza.
Extra floors were added to the five-storey building, designed as an office and shopping complex. These were later transformed into factories.
British trade unionists and anti-poverty campaigners welcomed the criminal charges against those responsible for the disaster.
But TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady pointed out that thousands of factories in Bangladesh were still unsafe, putting more workers’ lives at risk.
“Repressive labour laws in Bangladesh prevent workers from being able to call for safer conditions through trade unions,” she said.
She called it “shocking” that factory managers continued to go unpunished for widespread violence against trade unionists.
“The Bangladeshi government must allow full freedom of association and UK companies must use their buying power to demand trade union rights are respected, to ensure that the factories they use in Bangladesh are safe,” she said.
War on Want senior economic justice campaigner Owen Espley said: “The crimes of the factory owner were aided and abetted by a global industry that continues to ride roughshod over the safety of garment workers around the world.
“Companies like Gap are continuing to undermine worker safety in Bangladesh by refusing to sign on to the Bangladesh Safety Accord and promoting a fig-leaf alternative that doesn’t involve democratic trade unions.”