Mass burial for dozens of Bangladesh victims

Garment industry engaged in 'slave labor,' says pope
2013-05-02T00:00:00Z Mass burial for dozens of Bangladesh victimsThe Associated Press The Associated Press
May 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

JURAIN, Bangladesh - Dozens of Bangladeshi garment workers, their bodies too battered or decomposed to be identified, were buried in a mass funeral Wednesday, a week after the eight-story building they worked in toppled down, killing at least 410 people and injuring thousands.

Hundreds attended the traditional Muslim funeral and many more looked on from the roofs of nearby buildings as the bodies, rotting in the spring heat, were brought to the graveyard on the back of flatbed trucks.

Onlookers covered their noses. One woman rushed through the crowd to the back of a truck wailing that one of the bodies was her sister's. She begged to take it as family members held on to her to keep her from collapsing.

Local men and boys recited a traditional Muslim prayer for the dead. Then 34 bodies were unloaded and placed in the graves.

Workers at the cemetery have dug several long rows of graves as authorities expect to bury scores more unidentified bodies in the coming days.

"I would not have to take part in this if the government acted more responsibly," said Rasel Islam, a 32-year-old man who attended the burial.

Five garment factories were housed in the illegally constructed Rana Plaza building that collapsed April 24, five months after a fire killed 112 people at another clothing factory.

The tragedies exposed the unsafe conditions plaguing Bangladesh's $20 billion-a-year garment industry, which supplies many European and American retailers.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was shocked by a headline about the building collapse that said some of the workers were living on 38 euros ($50) a month.

"This was the payment of these people who have died ... and this is called 'slave labor,'" he said. Vatican Radio said the pope made the remarks during a private Mass at the Vatican.

"Not paying a just (wage), not providing work, focusing exclusively on the balance books, on financial statements, only looking at making personal profit. That goes against God!" Francis was quoted as saying.

He added: "People are less important than the things that give profit to those who have political, social, economic power. What point have we come to? To the point that we are not aware of this dignity of the person; this dignity of labor."

EU officials said they are considering action including changes to Bangladesh's duty-free and quota-free access to the giant EU market to "incentivize" responsible management of the nation's garment industry.

Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief, and its trade commissioner, Karel De Gucht, called in a statement for Bangladesh authorities to act immediately to ensure factories comply with international labor standards.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said businesses operating in the Rana Plaza appeared to have links to numerous companies in the U.S. and Europe.

"We'll continue to engage with U.S. companies to discuss what role they can play in improving conditions," he told reporters. He did not give details on the companies.

The death toll from the collapse passed 400 Wednesday, with a total of 410 people confirmed dead so far, police said.

Rescue workers expect the death toll to rise, because they believe many bodies are still buried on the ground level of the building.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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