U.S. Retailers Sued Over Bangladesh Tragedy

     WASINGTON (CN) – The families of more than 1,000 Bangladeshi workers killed in the collapse of garment factory want damages from the U.S. retailers that they say failed to ensure safe working conditions.
     Many of the 1,129 people killed, and the approximately 2,515 injured, in the April 24, 2013, collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh, were women and children, according to the federal complaint.
     The eight-story commercial building housed multiple garment factories, and the April 23 action names as defendants J.C. Penney Co., The Children’s Place, Wal-Mart Stores and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
     Lead plaintiff Abdur Rahaman says the death of his partner, Sharifa Belgum, in the collapse has left unable to find construction jobs because he has taken over the full-time care of the family’s four young children.
     Belgum, 30, earned about $155 a month working for New Wave Bottoms Ltd., according to the complaint.
     Mahamudul Hasan Hridoy is the complaint’s other named plaintiff. A former quality inspector for New Wave Style Ltd., Hridoy says he was 25 years old at the time of the collapse.
     He allegedly suffered head trauma, was in a coma for 17 days, and also sustained fractures to his ribs and backbone. He now needs the assistance of a cane to walk.
     The collapse occurred “despite significant warning signs that the building was uninhabitable-including illegal construction and at least one warning from an engineer the day before the collapse,” their complaint states.
     Rahaman and Hridoy say the retailers and the Bangladeshi government “breached their duty to workers … by failing to implement standards and oversight mechanisms designed to ensure the health and safety of workers.”
     The complaint notes that the defendant retailers operate more than 13,000 stores across the country, selling clothing produced in factories like the one in Bangladesh.
     Bangladesh has more than 5,000 garment factories and is the third-largest exporter of apparel to the U.S., handling orders for nearly all of the world’s top brands and retailers, the class says.
     China alone surpasses Bangladesh as the world’s leading exporter of clothing, according to the complaint.
     The class notes that 80 percent of the Rana Plaza workers were women between the ages of 18 and 20. Standard shifts allegedly last between 13 to 14.5 hours a day, with only two days off per month. Most workers made as little as 12 cents to 24 cents per hour.
     Wal-Mart and the other defendant retailers “understood and reasonably foresaw that their business practice of subcontracting with Bangladeshi garment companies would, without adequate supervision, inspection, and audits, put those workers at risk of suffering personal injury or death,” the complaint alleges.
     In addition to damages for negligence and wrongful death, the class seeks an order requiring the defendants to implement labor practices consistent with international standards for worker health and safety protection.
     Jonathan Greenbaum of Coburn & Greenbaum represents the class
     A spokesman for Wal-Mart alone returned a request for comment, but declined to discuss the details of matter since the litigation is pending.
     “As a founding member of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, we have worked through the alliance with other companies and organizations to improve conditions in factories in Bangladesh,” spokesman Randy Hargrove said. “Over the past year, the alliance provided fire safety training to more than 1 million factory employees and management, piloted a worker helpline, and provided compensation for approximately 1,000 displaced workers.”

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